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Privatised and modernised, what's wrong with this top Gujarat hospital?

By Rajiv Shah
VS Hospital. Privatised and modernised, even the word sends a negative stimulus in you. This is one of the two biggest hospitals in Ahmedabad, founded by one of the most respected philanthropists of the city, Vadilal Sarabhai, in 1931. The only time I visited it was when I visited Ahmedabad from Gandhinagar, where I was posted as the Times of India representative. I think the year was 2007.
That was when I suffered a dog bite while, accompanied with children, we went in search of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, rumoured to have been opened in the Municipal Market area on CG Road. I parked our Maruti Fronty, we looked around, couldn’t find one, and lo, when we were about to re-enter the car, the dog hit me.
A journalist friend helped me go to VS to see a doctor, who immediately called me in, even as telling me he wasn’t supposed to look after patients on that day, but since he had got a phone call from “someone important” he was obliging. He ordered for the injection, and I was taken to the spot where I was injected. I took follow-up injections in Gandhinagar.
I have heard a lot of unfavourable things about VS, considered by powers a "healthcare model", have also reported in Counterview how the present trustees of the hospital, belonging to the Sarabhai family, opposed the Gujarat government’s “obnoxious” privatisation move. But, being a political reporter, I never visited the hospital as a Times of India journalist. That was someone else's beat.
It was mid-September 2019. Someone whom I have venerated for the last four decades, a grand old lady (I am deliberately not naming her in order to avoid embarrassment to her family), passed away. Suffering from heart ailment and high sugar, she had gone to VS, on instructions from her son, to get herself checked up with reports of intolerable back and arms pain for the last few days.
Accompanied by her daughter, herself a widow, the grand old lady, said to be suffering from dysentery,  went to VS for checkup. She was made to stand in a serpentine queue, though she couldn't be on her feet. The daughter requested that the mother be allowed to meet the doctor early, but was refused. At one point, she was about to fall, and someone held her.
The daughter finally ensured that the mother entered the doctor’s cabin, but only after she stood for an hour. The doctor “examined” her, saw the reports she had already got from VS, said “everything looks normal”, and asked her to get a few more check-ups come and come the next day with fresh reports. They came out, went for check-ups, and returned home in a rickshaw totally tired.
As the daughter had to go pick up her son from school, she went away, asking the mother to climb up the stairs, as there is no lift. Accompanied by two well-wishers, she started climbing. Barely had she reached the second floor, she collapsed. Her daughter-in-law, who had come from elsewhere had already rushed up to open the door, wondered what happened for five minutes. She saw the grand old lady lying collapsed on the second floor.
Brought in the flat with the help of the two persons, the 108 ambulance was called in, which came after half an hour and declared her dead. The nurse asked the family to get a certificate from a family doctor. Meanwhile, the son rushed in, too, as did other relatives. He contacted a private doctor to whom this grand old lady would go for routine checkups.
This private doctor, whom I also vaguely know, refused, told them to approach the “last doctor who had examined her”. This prompted both of them to go VS, which told them they didn’t issue any such certificate – because she hadn't died in the hospital. Efforts were made by a family member, always ready to help in difficult situations, to arrange for a certificate. The doctor examined the grand old lady, saw reports, and issued the much-required certificate, without which, I was told, the crematorium wouldn’t accept the body.
Even as the body was lying in a state, with family members tying her to the collapsible bamboo stretcher, questions began being asked as to why was the grand old lady not taken to a private hospital. After all, it was a private hospital from where she had returned alive. The question was surely valid, but, I wonder why blame the family for it?
Two weeks on, I am left wondering: Why did the VS doctor, who last examined her, say, she looked normal? Unable to stand on her feet, why couldn’t one of the biggest hospitals of Gujarat immediately admit her? Couldn’t the doctor even see through this small thing? And finally, after the grand old lady's son and daughter went to VS for a death certificate with all the reports in hand, why did the hospital say: “We don’t give the certificate”, leaving them to fend for themselves at this hour?
The VS imbroglio puts in question a wider issue: What is the responsibility of the government? Can’t it even look after the health of its citizens? Is that the reason why hospitals like VS are being privatised, handed over to corporate sharks? So quick in building the world’s tallest Statue of Unity and Mahatma Mandir, whom one senior bureaucrat called "assets" of the government, where does this efficiency disappear when it comes to healthcare?

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