Dhampur, Oct 25 (IANS): When Shakeel Ahmad (52) of Sherkot in Uttar Pradesh's Bijnor district felt chest pain over two years ago, his family members rushed him to the Community Health Centre (CHC) in Dhampur, located almost eight km away, but to their surprise there was no one in the medical facility.
"There was no one in the hospital. So we decided to take him to Moradabad, located 50 km away. But he died on the way," said Shakeel's brother Vakil Ahmad.
Sharad Kumar (46) died in the same manner in 2017.
"He suddenly got a chest pain, and his body started convulsing. Even though Dhampur CHC was nearby, I had to take him to a private hospital," said Sharad's neighbour Manoj Kumar, a resident of Teachers' Colony in Dhampur.
Manoj claimed that Sharad died due to lack of timely medical attention. "Had there been a cardiologist in the government hospital, we would have got medical attention sooner, and maybe his life could have been saved," he said.
Bijnor Additional Chief Medical Officer Dr PK Gupta told 101Reporters that Haldaur, Chandpur, Anku, Dhampur (Allahpur), Afzalgarh, Budhanpur Seohara, Najibabad and Nagina blocks have 11 CHCs, each catering to a population of over one lakh.
However, inadequate facilities have always been an issue everywhere. "There are many problems in Dhampur CHC. Some doctors prescribe medicines that are only available in private medical stores. There is a shortage of doctors and lack of facilities as well. We had staged a demonstration to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities," said farmer leader Dushyant Kumar Rana, a resident of Jaitra village in Dhampur.
Key posts vacant
Dhampur CHC Superintendent Dr Manas Chauhan told 101Reporters that as per rules, there should be seven doctors, including an in-charge medical officer, an orthopaedic surgeon, a general surgeon, an anaesthetist, an ENT specialist, a skin specialist and a pathologist, in the CHC.
"If you do not take contract workers into account, I am the only one posted here. One doctor was transferred recently, while another retired," he said.
According to him, 200 to 250 patients visit Dhampur CHC every day. "There is an operation theatre here. If there are doctors, operations can be done. As of now, serious cases are referred to district hospitals,” he said.
There are vacancies at Nagina CHC as well. "We have only three doctors posted here. We need at least a child specialist and a gynaecologist, but we do not have any of them," said Nagina CHC in-charge medical officer Naveen Chauhan.
According to the doctors, the CHCs in the district see two to four emergency cases a day. "We refer two to three patients to the district hospital every day. Ahead of the referral, we give the best primary treatment we can, given the facilities we have, but there is always a risk as patients need to be transferred over long distances to other centres within a short time," Naveen said.
"In emergency situations, say head or internal injuries, we need specialist doctors and medical equipment like CT scan, ultrasound and X-ray machines. But in our health centre, even accessing an X-ray film is difficult,” Seohara Main CHC in-charge Vishal Divankar told 101Reporters.
The population residing in these blocks is mostly rural. "Women and child health is a major concern due to lack of awareness. To compound this, most CHCs are running without gynaecologists and child specialists," Divankar added.
According to Dr Naveen, the CHCs are trying to provide services of a gynaecologist by contracting it to other doctors. "A doctor has been assigned the responsibility to see women patients at Nagina. We still need a child specialist, but have not been able to find a suitable person," he said.
What the officials say
Bijnor Chief Medical Officer Vijay Kumar Goyal admitted that there was a shortage of doctors in the entire district. "Dhampur CHC has only one doctor, while two doctors are posted at the Trauma Centre located in Nagina Road area of Dhampur," Goyal told 101Reporters.
According to senior officials, fresh medical graduates from state-run institutions opt out of the compulsory rural service by paying the bond amount, which further exacerbates the shortage of doctors.
"We do inform the top officials about the shortage of doctors and we try to get recruits from government colleges. The new generation of doctors, however, is not much interested in rendering their services to rural government hospitals," said Dr Gupta.
Manas said doctors also have to do administrative work in government hospitals. "The youth may feel that the salary is less and this may be the reason for the low number of new recruits in the CHCs," he said.
District Panchayat member Vivek Sen said he has raised the issue of shortage of doctors with the higher officials multiple times. "These hospitals have become referral centres. I do not understand how such a large population is being treated in a hospital with no facilities. A few months ago, I attended a district planning meeting, where I raised this problem in the presence of top officials," he said.
(Shahbaz Anwar is a Uttar Pradesh-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)