Mumbai: BMC hospitals turn away 3,000 patients every year for lack of ventilators

Aug 09, 2016, 08:45 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty

RTI query reveals that civic hospitals are turning away critically-ill patients every day because many of their life-support ventilators are falling into disrepair

When a loved one is seriously ill, the last thing you want is for a government hospital is to turn you away. Or worse yet, for the doctors to tell you that the life of your loved one is now in your own hands. And yet, this is exactly what happens at BMC hospitals across the city.

On average, Nair Hospital turns away two patients every day due to the lack of ventilators, but the hospital authorities still claim that there is no shortage of the life-sustaining machine. File pic
On average, Nair Hospital turns away two patients every day due to the lack of ventilators, but the hospital authorities still claim that there is no shortage of the life-sustaining machine. File pic

An RTI application has revealed that nearly 3,000 critically ill patients are turned away by civic hospitals every year because they are short of ventilators, a crucial machine that pumps oxygen into patients who are too severely ill or injured to breathe on their own. At hospitals like KEM and Sion, patients are not refused but are manually ventilated. But that can be just as traumatic for the family members.

Just two days ago, mid-day had highlighted the nightmare that one family went through at KEM hospital after they were told that there were no ventilators available.

For over four hours, a relative had to manually pump oxygen into his brother-in-law’s system to keep him alive, until the doctors could finally provide a ventilator (‘Had I let go, he’d have died’, August 7).

The RTI query was filed in June by an activist, and so far, the Sion, Nair, Cooper hospitals and the Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma Centre have responded to it.

In all four hospitals, patients are sent away because of a lack of ventilators, even as several of the life-sustaining machines are lying in disrepair.

Out of the 104 ventilators across these four hospitals, 20 are not functioning, but the authorities have not bothered to repair or replace them.

Every day, these hospitals receive around 50 patients who need to be put on ventilators immediately.

On average, eight of these patients are turned away every day because there just aren’t enough working machines.

“BMC spends crores of rupees for the development of hospitals. It is horrifying to see that major hospitals that treat thousands of patients every day, don’t have enough ventilators. Patients are kept waiting for hours, even days, or are asked to shift to another hospital. This further delays treatment,” said the RTI applicant, who is a doctor by profession.

In the latest BMC budget, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta declared that the number of beds at KEM Hospital will be increased from 1,800 to 2,250, whereas at Nair, the bed strength will go up to 1,800 and at Sion Hospital, the number will be raised to 1,900. Even as the number of beds increase, the number of ventilators remains the same. If anything, the number of ventilators will only go down each time one of the machines goes bust. This is a serious threat to patients’ lives.

Official speak
Dr Avinash Supe, director of major BMC-run hospitals and dean of KEM, said, “We get so many patients from private hospitals, just directly sent to us. Even if we get more ventilators, there will always be a shortage. However, we are in the process of procuring more ventilators.”

Additional Commissioner of BMC (Health) IA Kundan didn’t respond to calls and messages from this reporter.

Expert speaks

Healthcare activist Dr Ravikant Singh pointed out that the biggest factor was BMC’s short-sighted approach. “The price of these ventilators vary from Rs 3 lakh to several lakhs, depending on the type of the model. But BMC doesn’t think about the maintenance of the machines before buying them,” he said, adding that there was also a shortage of technicians to maintain the machines.

Shocking revelations

Nair Hospital
Ventilators installed: 74
Non-functional: 10 (can be repaired)
Daily patient need: 15-18
Daily number of patients turned away: 1-2
Hospital says: Shockingly, the hospital authorities state that there is no shortage of ventilators.

Cooper Hospital
Ventilators installed: 10
Non-functional: 2 (can’t be repaired)
Daily patient need: 10
Daily patients turned away: 1-2
Hospital says: RTI response reveals that the hospital requires 28 more machines — 15 for adults, 8 for neonatal and 5 for pediatric.

Sion Hospital
Ventilators installed in trauma ward: 13
Non-functional: 5 (can be repaired) 
Daily patient need: 8
Daily patients turned away: 0
Hospital says: The process to buy the machines has been pending since April. The hospital has accepted in the RTI, “Patients are not turned down. They are manually ventilated till a ventilator is available. On an average, there are two such patients per week.”

Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma Centre
Ventilators installed in MICU ward: 7
Non-functional: 2 (only one can be repaired)
Daily patient need: 5-6
Daily patients turned away: Unknown
Hospital says: “Informed the concerned company’s service engineer for immediate repairs."

DISCLAIMER: mid-day and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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