Big hospital, no staff


Where doctors and patients are missing

THE first thing that strikes you about Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, is how huge the building is. A big edifice, and along with it, another half-finished OPD block. As you walk in, you notice that even early in the morning, the place is clean, and floors are being mopped. You look around for patients—and keep looking.

In a nation where you are used to queues forming outside other government institutions even before these open in the morning, here there is no rush. Talking to some patients, their problems become clear. Resham Singh has brought his wife here for an ultrasound test. He says that X-rays and tests take a lot of time and when the test results come out, by 1.30 pm, doctors are not available for consultation. There is not even a single lady doctor for the OB patients; there are doctors, but too few of them.
Deliberately visiting the hospital at 9 am showed that some doctors were indeed missing from their rooms, although we were told that they were taking rounds. The Principal, Dr H. L. Kazal, was attending to OPD patients, and there was a familiar, “sarkari” hospital crowd around him, even as he efficiently disposed of his cases, showing familiarity with some patients, who were obviously old cases.

Most of the patients have a “Doctor is God” attitude, and they who come to this hospital are among the poorest in the area. To them, paying Rs 2 for fee for parking a bicycle or Rs 3 for parking a scooter is irksome, but wait, they have to pay a rupee more, the contractor charges Rs 3 rather for keeping a bicycle and Rs 5 for parking a scooter.
Sukhminder Singh was hurt in an accident. His friends from the village are here to look after him. “Both his legs have been broken; we are poor people. We are going to the Doctor Sahib to get him to sign a slip so that we can get medicines from the Red Cross people. There are only women in his family, so we are helping them here,” said his friend.
Since a vast majority of the patients are from nearby villages, they do not allow women to be examined by male doctors, especially OB doctors. The department is headed by a well-regarded gynaecologist, Dr A. S. Saini, but the only lady doctor in the department left a few months ago and a replacement is awaited. In contrast, the local civil hospital has three lady doctors in this department, and Balbir Hospital, popularly known as “Raje da Haspataal”, also has lady doctors.
Hospital is run by a trust set up by Raja Harinder Singh, last king of Faridkot, in the name of his father. The registration fee in this hospital is the same as paid in the government hospital for parking a bicycle. “There is no consultation fee and we have a budget of Rs 2.5 lakh for distributing free medicines in the hospital,” says Col Balbir Singh (retd), an official of the trust.
Most of the doctors in the government hospital did not go on record, but when assured of anonymity, pointed out that 40 per cent of the posts in the hospital were vacant, the radiology department was overworked, and they had been without a professor ever since the last retired. There is no post-graduate teacher for dermatology (skin), one of the six specialities in which the college offers post-graduation.
Officials rue the procedural delays in recruitment. The hospital has also not been getting its due share of the PPS funds for professional services. They have four seats for NRI students, who have to pay $75,000 each as fee. The government gets the money, the college takes the students, and a fraction of the fee.
Another doctor said the most common diseases in the area were diabetes and liver aliments, the latter as a result of alcoholism. The local Red Cross had done much to help the patients who have this problem.
The first priority of doctors posted in Faridkot is to get out of there. The students have the same goal; while we were in the office, a student came in to get her papers signed. She was leaving the college to join Dayanand Medical College at Ludhiana.
Dr Kazal is an exception—he has been here since 1990, when he shifted from Patiala. “Here, life is peaceful, the cost of living is low and there are good education facilities. My children studied here and have done well. Housing is affordable, land is cheap and the salaried people can still construct their own house without too much trouble,” says the doctor.
He concedes that the lack of a lady OB doctor has had a negative impact on some patients. As for the tests, he says: “The doctors are available in wards till 2.30 pm and they tell the patients to meet them once the results comes out. The Radiology Department is under stress because of understaffing, and we hope to get more staff soon.”
Now that some money has been allocated, the doctor is positive that soon the hospital would have the necessary equipment for CT scan and a treadmill for TMT. It comes as a shock that the hospital lacks even such basic equipment, but one look at the building and you know that the focus has been on raising walls and not on getting the basic staff and infrastructure.

The medical college still runs out of the old FCI storage. Why have some of the offices not been shifted to the unused portions of the hospital building? No convincing answer is received.
As one leaves, heart-rending cries are heard. A man and his daughter are crying. They have just found that the girl’s mother has died. They are overwrought in their grief. Hospitals are not about buildings or doctors, facilities or equipment. They are about healing. When they fail to provide us with that, they fail themselves.

The Tribune, OpEd. September 9, 2006