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Oct 28
Baby deaths: Probe rules out negligence
An inquiry into the 11 crib deaths at BC Roy child hospital has cleared the hospital authorities of negligence, but the incident spurred the health department to take steps to prevent a recurrence.

Another baby died on Thursday, taking the number of deaths in a 72-hour period to 12. Seven deaths had been reported between Monday evening and Tuesday night, and four died on Wednesday morning.

"We are studying the inquiry report. The deaths are unfortunate but they don't seem to have resulted from negligence. It's true that critical patients, who have very little chance of survival, are brought to the hospital. So, we plan to curb this system of indiscriminately referring patients to BC Roy," said Susanta Banerjee, director of medical education.

The 12 children who died were aged from a day to three months. While the hospital claimed all of them were underweight and had serious heart and respiratory ailments, some of the families feel the doctors were slow in treating them.

It's not the first time the hospital is caught in such a controversy. Eighteen babies had died in a 48-hour period last June. Then, too, the hospital had argued that the children were critically ill and couldn't have been saved.

Patients' relatives aren't convinced. "This has been happening far too often. Parents would obviously be scared to admit their children at BC Roy. Since this is the only specialized hospital for infants, where else will they go?" asked Kanailal Panda, whose five-day-old granddaughter died at the hospital on Wednesday.

On Thursday, news of another baby's death sparked panic among parents. Rumours of more deaths started floating around. Some families immediately arranged for their babies to be shifted out although hospital authorities tried to pacify them. A trader from Dum Dum said that the doctors had recommended a series of tests for her daughter, who has a leg injury, but nothing has been done in the last three days. "I have no idea if the tests will be done or if she needs them at all. Whenever I ask doctors, they tell me to wait," he alleged.

"We can't wait and watch when babies are dying like this. It could be your child next so we were already planning to move out. But now it seems the situation is under control," said Benoy Kumar Das, whose niece has been admitted for the last five days.

The hospital authorities maintain that the deaths had not resulted from negligence. "About five-six babies die every day. They cannot be saved because they are brought to us in an irretrievable state. Often, the number of such critical cases shoots up, leading to a sudden spike in the casualty figure. This is exactly what has happened over the last 48 hours. We have already carried out an enquiry and have found nothing to suggest negligence on our part," said hospital superintendent D K Pal.

He, however, admitted to a "communication gap" between parents and doctors at the hospital. "Doctors don't always interact properly with parents, which often leads to an impression that they are not treating the children. This is not the case. Every patient is being attended to, though we have our constraints," Pal explained.

The health department wants to stop the practice of referring critical cases to BC Roy Hospital. "It has become the norm to refer patients. The infrastructure at the hospital makes it impossible to take care of such a huge number of serious patients. From now on, every hospital or nursing home must cite specific causes and justify why the patient was shifted. It will be assessed by doctors at BC Roy before admission. Also, we shall revive a care unit at the hospital by the first week of November. This will raise the number of beds and lead to a few additional facilities," said Banerjee.

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