Helpline for hospital beds, blood

our special correspondent

The state health department plans to set up a 24-hour helpline to provide crucial information, such as availability of beds, and record complaints of negligence at state-run hospitals.

The helpline, to be manned by a private agency, will also tell callers about availability of blood at government blood banks, including those at state-run hospitals, and the types of medical services each state-run hospital offers.

Relatives of patients now have to run from one government hospital to another to know whether any bed is vacant or a particular procedure is performed.

"We are finalising the plan for the 24-hour helpline to function from Swastha Bhavan in Salt Lake. A professional agency will be hired to operate the call centre," Satish Tiwari, the principal secretary in the state health department, told Metro.

"The helpline will end harassment of patients and their relatives. Now patients and their relatives run from one government hospital to another without knowing whether beds are available. People looking for blood, too, suffer the same plight," said a Swastha Bhavan official.

As for complaints of medical negligence, an official said: "The caller will be given a registration number and the complaint will be forwarded to the medical superintendent of the hospital concerned. The superintendent will have to conduct a probe and submit a report based on which a feedback will be given to the complainant."

Health department sources said the process to float tenders for the call centre had started and it would take some time before the service was started.

"We are in the middle of setting up an online link between the hospitals and the call centre. A huge database needs to be created before we start the service," said a senior health department official.

"The concept of bed bureau, recommended by the Subrata Maitra-led expert group on health care, will be integrated with that of the helpline," said an official.

"The group wanted a centrally-located bed bureau that can divert patients from the emergency ward to a hospital where a bed is available."

Health department sources said Uttarakhand and some southern states, including Andhra Pradesh, had similar helplines for government hospitals.

Doctors and several health department officials expressed doubt about how effective the helpline would be.

"Getting updated data about availability of beds is an area of concern," said a doctor of a medical college in central Calcutta.

He also pointed out a "practical" problem. "Say, a relative of a patient in Howrah learns from the helpline that a bed is available at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. But by the time he manages to reach the hospital with the patient, the bed may have been allotted to some other patient," said the doctor.

Also, the helpline might not have information about whether a particular doctor is available at the outpatient department on a given day. "It will help if the service can provide such information," said another doctor.

There are several police helplines in the city which people allege are not effective.

Metro had on several occasions reported how people calling up police helplines failed to get response even during emergencies.

"Passengers facing taxi refusal lodge complaints with the registration number of the vehicle. But we fail to take any action because of lack of manpower," said a police officer.