Rule red tape for baby surgery

A 45-day-old girl in need of surgery to remove a cyst from the chest lay virtually unattended for three days at SSKM Hospital while two departments tried to pass the onus of treating her to each other.

The baby from Salboni in West Midnapore was born with a large but benign tumour (cystic hygroma) near the neck and was operated on in the neonatology department of the state's largest referral hospital when she was 20 days old.

When mother Chhabi Mahato brought the girl for a follow-up surgery on Monday, she had crossed 28 days.

"Babies up to 28 days old are treated in the neonatology department; babies older than that are treated in the paediatric wing," said a senior official at SSKM.

"In this case, however, the paediatric ward said the baby had to be operated on by the same doctor who had conducted the first surgery. So it referred the case to the neonatology department, which kept insisting that it was a paediatric case on the grounds of age," the official added.

An ABP Ananda report highlighting the plight of the girl and her family members prompted Tridib Banerjee, the chairman of the task force on health, to summon the SSKM authorities and resolve the issue by allowing neonatal and paediatric surgeons to perform operations in each other's departments.

Chhabi Mahato said she had reported with the baby to the emergency ward of the hospital for the follow-up surgery and was referred to the paediatric ward.

The baby was admitted to the paediatric department but the impasse set in after the doctors came to know that the first surgery had been performed by Dipankar Roy of the neonatology department.

However, soon after Banerjee's meeting at Swastha Bhavan, surgeon Roy examined the girl in the paediatric department. "Some tests have been done. After the reports come, the doctor will decide when he will conduct the surgery," said Tamal Kanti Ghosh, the medical superintendent and vice-principal of SSKM.

Ghosh and Roy were among the doctors who attended the Swastha Bhavan meeting.

"There was a misunderstanding between the neonatology and paediatric departments. We have allowed doctors of both departments access to the operating theatres of the other department," said Banerjee.

The city's medical fraternity was livid at the turn of events, saying the SSKM authorities should have done three days ago what Banerjee did following the ABP Ananda report to prevent the ordeal faced by the baby and her family.

"The 28 day cut-off is a man-made rule. It was a shame that the doctors of the two departments tried to exploit the rule to wash their hands of the case. The incident smacks of a tendency to shirk responsibility and lack of dedication of the doctors," said a senior doctor of a government hospital who refused to be named.