Ahmednagar Hospital Fire: Stir against arrest of medical staff under IPC 304, 304A
Ahmednagar: The doctors, nurses, and paramedical staff of the civil hospital in Ahmednagar went on a strike protesting against the arrest of a medical officer and three other staff nurses under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 304A (causing death by negligence) after a major fire in the hospital killed 11 people, who were mostly senior citizens.
The protestors demanded the release of the arrested medical professionals. They alleged that the government was attempting to shift the blame to the medical fraternity whereas the actual cause of the fire was the negligence of the government in conducting regular fire audit and non-dispersal of funds to set up a fire safety system.
In wake of the incident, the Ahmednagar district civil surgeon and three other health officials were suspended and the services of two staff nurses were also terminated.
The CM had ordered a probe into the incident and had announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of those who had died in the fire.
The one-day protest on Thursday which led to the closing down of OPD services and elective surgeries in the hospital was joined by the local unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), homeopathy, and Ayurveda practitioners.
The former president of IMA, Ahmednagar Dr Nisar Shaikh told The Indian Express that only emergency services were allowed to function.
Dr Anil Athare, president of IMA, Ahmednagar stated, "If there is a fire, how is the doctor and nurse responsible? They are there to take care of the patients' health. So how does it justify the clauses of Section 304 and 304A against the medical officer and three nurses."
He added, "Doctors and nurses have always been soft targets, but no one has questioned personnel from the PWD and electrical department regarding wiring and other maintenance works."
The hospital members have raised their issues with the unjustifiable manner in which the medical officer and the three nurses were arrested and remanded in police custody. Along with the 700 member group of IMA, the Maharashtra State Health Nurses Association and the Maharashtra Association of Government Medical Officers have also joined the strike.
IMA Ahmednagar secretary Dr Sachin Vahadane stated that the OPDs and IPDs of around 300 private hospitals and clinics in Ahmednagar would stop their services for a period of 24 hours from Thursday morning. He added, "The doctors and nurses have been made scapegoats in the incident, which was due to a technical reason."
The Senior Medical Officer of Ahmednagar District Hospital, Dr. Prasad Saigaonkar said that the police arrested them even before the seven-day inquiry process was completed, adding, "These are criminal charges based on CCTV footage which have not been verified."
He told Times of India, "The investigations are still on and the arrests were made based on the CCTV footage from the ICU. Our doctor and nurses were not responsible for the outbreak of the fire that led to the deaths. Yet, criminal cases were filed against them. Such acts are demoralising for the medical fraternity."
Speaking against the tag of culpable homicide charged against the arrested medical officials, the IMA president, Dr Athare stated, "This is simply shocking. The death of the patients occurred due to a fire tragedy. The medical staff of the hospital have nothing to do with it. In fact, they made every effort to rescue the patients. The patients were even brought out of the ICU ward. Charging them with culpable homicide is beyond imagination."
Expressing objection against the arrests made by the police, the president of the Maharashtra State Health Nurses Association, Surekha Andhale said that around 14,000 to 15,000 nurses across government hospitals in Maharashtra would join the strike if their demands of releasing the arrested persons were not met by the government. She also pointed out that there was no fire automation system at the government hospital.
Andhale was quoted as saying by TOI, "We had written to the state government to roll back the disciplinary action taken against the nurses after the incident. Instead of paying heed to our demand, the government has toughened its stand. We will also not take things lying down."
The former vice-president of IMA Maharashtra, Dr. Shaikh reasoned the fire to be caused by a short circuit in the plug panel which spread at a fast rate due to the centralised AC and the oxygen supply meant for Covid patients that there was too much smoke and fire. Dr. Shaikh added, "This was a building meant for maternal and child health wards under the National Rural Health Mission. However, it was turned into a Covid ICU funded mainly by private players."
Doctors associated with IMA have also criticized the government for their negligent behavior in conducting regular fire audits, adding that the district civil surgeon had asked for state funds to establish a fire safety system to which the administration remained unresponsive.
Meanwhile, the District collector Rajendra Bhosale told TOI that he had made an appeal to a team of doctors, nurses, and IMA whom he met on Wednesday evening to call off the strike. He added, "They have demanded the release of the arrested doctor and nurses. I have told them that the state government would be informed of their demand. I have requested them to start their work so that patients do not suffer."
Following the incident, Dr. Bhushan Kumar Ramteke was appointed as District Civil Surgeon in Ahmednagar. He said that the strike did not affect the emergency services, with only the OPDs being shut down.
However, PTI reports that a senior police official claimed that more people could have been saved if the staff members of the ICU in the civil hospital had attempted to rescue the patients when the fire broke out.
Manoj Patil, district Superintendent of Police said, "All these staff nurses told us that when the fire started, they were inside the ICU. But during the probe we found that they were outside."
He added that the CCTV footage showed less smoke in the beginning when they backed out after attempting to go in once. He said, "There was little smoke initially, so patients should have been shifted out. But instead, they ran, to seek help or to save their own lives," adding, "In those first 10 minutes, they could have pulled out at least four to six patients."
The CCTV footage showed the attendants of the patient rushing inside to save the people. The nurses said that they could not do anything because of the smoke.
The SP further gave an example of a person, "One Vivek Khatik is seen going into the ICU, first taking out his mother, then returning and taking his father out."Khatik's mother survived whereas his father Kadu Bal Gangadhar Khatik died due to suffocation.