Niloufer Hospital in the city has been in news for a long time for its notorious record of baby deaths. Going by the records available, 93 babies have died at the hospital in the last seven days, and 63 of them in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NNICU).
Incidentally, on the day when the State Human Rights Commission secretary made a surprise inspection, there were 17 deaths recorded.
When asked, Dr Ramesh Reddy, in-charge superintendent of the hospital, said, “If you look at the inflow of patients and the types of patients we get, the deaths are very minimal. Babies sent to us at terminal stages are the ones who mostly die here.”
The Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit, which has a capacity of 30 patients, on an average day is flooded with 130-odd patients with just two nurses for service.
NNICU requires fumigation, a process of application of gas or smoke, for disinfecting the place every 15 days. But the NNICU at Niloufer has not been fumigated for the last eight months.
A senior doctor said, “Three days ago, when a few sections of NNICU had to be shut for fumigation, we had referred the patients to Gandhi Hospital but they were sent back. Usually, family members are not allowed inside NNICU but since we lack nurses we are forced to take the assistance of the parents,” he said.
The shortage of nursing staff is viewed as a major cause of child deaths. Said a senior nurse, “There are three major reasons for the abnormally-high incidence of child deaths here. Babies are extremely delicate but the hospital is not able to maintain hygiene and sterility. Another reason can be the chronic presence of attendants even at NNICU where only nurses are supposed to enter. Since there is a shortage of nursing staff, nurses often take the assistance of attendants of patients.”
According to her, attendants, who often are family members, are difficult to manage. “They carry their luggage and food into wards which can cause infection to babies,” she said.
She pointed out that nurses had a heavy work load. At present, there are 158 nursing staff members working in three shifts, 35 each on morning and night shifts and the rest on the day shift. With over 1,000 patients on any given day, the ideal ratio is one nurse for every three babies whereas, at present, each nurse has to take care of around 10 babies at any point of time.
Patients too have been complaining about lack of facilities and are often seen in argument with authorities. There was no drinking water on Thursday. Mallaiah from Kadapa district, who had come for his son’s operation, said, “Doctors and nurses are good but the other staff are very negligent and careless. Every time we enter the hospital, the gate-keeper demands money. We have to fight for everything.”