Bahadur Ram (66) got the shock of his life about a month ago when doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi asked him to come back on January 13 in 2021 for his heart surgery.
Since then, Ram, a beneficiary under the Centre’s mega health insurance cover plan Ayushman Bharat, has been making the rounds of India’s premier medical institute to reschedule the date.
“How can doctors give my father such a date? What if his condition turns critical? Will the hospital take responsibility? He cannot even walk. He is a heart patient,” said Ram’s son Jatin Kumar.
He has been skipping his job in Delhi’s Pitam Pura to accompany his father to the hospital.
Similarly, Shakuntala Kumari (48) was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she went to AIIMS in June 2018. Since then, she’s been waiting for her next date, September 12, 2019, to see a doctor.
“Have you ever heard of a politician being put on such a long waitlist?” she asked.
The two aren’t the only sufferers. Hundreds of patients at top government health facilities in Delhi are being given dates that range between six months and two years.
The crisis is primarily because of increasing patient numbers and a massive shortage of doctors, beds and equipment.
The most affected are AIIMS, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research, Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Lok Nayak Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital and Babu Jagjiwan Ram Hospital.
AIIMS medical superintendent Dr DK Sharma said, “Hospitals are highly overloaded with patients. They lack manpower, infrastructure, beds and equipment. We’re still trying to cater to all patients.”
Every day, almost 15,000 people come for treatment at the AIIMS’ out-patient department and around 2,000 are admitted. “If somebody is put on a long waitlist, it must be because some critically-ill patients need treatment first. But before we give a date, we stabilise the patient and ask him if they can afford treatment outside,” said Dr Sharma.
At Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Rani Kumar (58) has been diagnosed with a neurological disorder and needs an urgent operation. But she has been told to return after six months.
“They are making us suffer more. I feel like they want us to die before I get operated,” Rani said.
The hospital’s medical director, Dr VK Tiwari, also blamed rising patient numbers for the situation. “We have all facilities but the number of patients is so high that some have to be put on long waitlists. This is mainly because healthcare systems are in bad shape in neighbouring states. We know the government is making efforts but the health sector needs a stronger push,” he said.
Then there is a shortage of beds. “For instance, today (Thursday), I got a call for a bed to a patient on ventilator. Already, there is shortage of beds. We cannot remove a patient admitted in the hospital,” he said.
GB PANT HOSPITAL
Ramavati was suffering from acute pancreatic disorders when she visited GB Pant Hospital, but was told to wait for eight months for her surgery.
A resident of East Delhi’s Shahdara, the 53-year-old then went to a private hospital where she couldn’t afford her treatment cost.
“She is suffering. We have to wait for eight months to for her surgery. In case her condition gets complicated, anything can happen,” said her son Yogesh Kumar.
The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Sanjay Kumar Tyagi, said doctors handle 8,000 OPD patients every day.
“But only stable patients with no criticality or life threat are put on long waitlists. For any doctor, a serious patient in emergency is a priority. We do our best to manage each and every patient,” he said.
The hospital receives patients mainly from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other neighbouring states and this is why such dates are given, Dr. Tyagi said. About 40 per cent doctors’ posts are vacant at this hospital, sources said.
Dr Sunil Kumar, medical superintendent, GTB Hospital, also said inadequate infrastructure is a big hurdle. “In our gynaecology ward, one can see two-three patients sharing one bed. Even in the medicine ward, two patients on a bed is routine,” he said. Forty per cent of the total doctors’ posts are vacant at this hospital, sources said, adding that the number of daily outside patients is 9,000.
SIR GANGA RAM HOSPITAL
Dr Ajay Swaroop at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital also blamed the poor doctor-patient ratio. “Public hospitals lack basic infrastructure even in cities. Doctors have erratic working conditions. They also face security issues. That is why very few doctors are left in government hospitals,” he said.
At the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), two-thirds of the total doctors’ posts are vacant.
The daily OPD count is 8,000. At Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, there are several vacant posts in its medicine, radiology, neurosurgery and nephrology departments. The daily OPD count is 7,000.
Forty-six posts are vacant at Lok Nayak Hospital that has a daily OPD count of 9,000. Babu Jagjiwan Ram Hospital needs six more specialised doctors. The daily OPD count is 3,000.
Lawyer and healthcare activist Ashok Agrawal said making patients in need of immediate treatment wait for so long is inhuman.
“I get many complaints every week from all government hospitals in Delhi. In most cases, patients’ condition is severe and they need immediate surgeries, but they’re put on long waitlists. The government must get serious and take immediate steps to address the crisis,” he said.