Expressing anguish over the arrest of doctors and staff on duty for the fire incident at Civil Hospital in at Ahmednagar, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has demanded comprehensive steps to prevent fires in hospitals. In addition, IMA blames the authorities for passing the buck to doctors and nurses.
“While the specialised task departments like fire, electricity and public works department (PWD) exist in all government institutions, action against doctors and nurses is nothing but swaying away from responsibilities by the machinery. Mechanisms of fire audit, maintenance and firefighting are allocated responsibilities of these specialised departments undoubtedly. Why doctors and nurses should be treated as scapegoats to project some action? Suppose doctors and nurses can be arrested without any complete enquiry and slapped with responsibilities for which they are not accountable. In that case, it speaks volumes about the system,” said IMA national president Dr JA Jayalal and honorary national secretary Dr Jayant Lele, in a statement.
On Thursday, a delegation of IMA Maharashtra met state health minister Rajesh Tope about the arrest of the intern doctor and nursing staff in the Ahmednagar hospital fire. During the meeting, the health minister spoke with Manoj Patil, superintendent of police (SP) from Ahmednagar. The SP assured Mr Tope that the police department had already written that they would have no objection to granting the bail to the doctor and nurses arrested in this case.
The IMA delegation was represented by Dr Pankaj Bandarkar, honourary state secretary of IMA and Dr Shivkumar Utture, president of Maharashtra Medical Council, among others.
Last week, in a drastic action, the Maharashtra government took action against six officials in connection with the major fire in Ahmednagar Civil Hospital, which claimed the lives of 11 COVID-19 patients on 6 November 2021. While district health surgeon Dr Sunil Pokhrana, medical officers—Dr Suresh Dhakne and Dr Vishakha Shinde, and nurse Sapna Pathare have been suspended, two other nurses—Asma Sheikh and Channa Anant - have been compulsorily retired from services.
Shockingly, Dr Shinde and the three staff nurses were arrested by police. The health department assumed Dr Shinde was a medical officer on duty and had suspended her. However, when it was realised that Dr Shinde was a postgraduate medical student doing her internship at that Hospital, the health department revoked her suspension.
It has been almost two weeks; Dr Shinde, the intern, and three staff nurses are still in jail while the officials are not even taking any decision on a preliminary investigation that revealed a lack of fire audit of the hospital. The Civil Hospital did not have any no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department as per the preliminary investigation. It also did not have functional water sprinklers.
Further, the installation of firefighting systems at the Hospital was allegedly held up due to technical reasons. Apart from fire extinguishers, the Association says, the Civil Hospital lacked a concrete firefighting system. It and is alleged that the Hospital had no fire sprinklers, hydrants, or smoke detectors.
Instead of knee-jerk reactions, IMA says, it is time for all stakeholders concerned to audit the safety norms on physical infrastructure, violence prevention and ensures adequate funds for the upkeep and maintenance of equipment to ensure patient safety.
“When such fire incidents take place in private hospitals, the owners of the hospitals are taken into the task by the authorities; however, in government hospitals, the unfortunate postgraduate student doctor and nurses are arrested and put in jail,” it asks.
Demanding immediate release of the student doctor and all nurses, IMA says, “the Maharashtra government should commence a threadbare study on this incident to formulate practical guidelines to prevent such incidents in the future for which we assure our full-hearted support.”