Govt hospitals in Rawalpindi facing shortage of ventilators

Source: Published in Health on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RAWALPINDI: When the 70-year-old father of Nasir Hussein, a resident of Rawalpindi, went through respiratory failure after combating high blood pressure for some time, doctors recommended putting the patient on a ventilator to help him breath. The only problem was that the three government-run hospitals in the city did not have one to spare for Nasir’s father.

The 35-year-old had to go from hospital to hospital asking their intensive care units (ICU) if they have a ventilator his father could be put on.

In the end, Nasir, who works in a private firm, borrowed Rs100,000 from his cousin and took his father to a private hospital.

Doctors at the three government-run hospitals told him that other, younger patients were usually given beds in an ICU and that older people were not prioritised because they had lower odds of survival and of making a recovery.

The fees for private hospitals, on the other hand, are very high.

“I was charged Rs80,000 per day for the ventilator which I borrowed from family. So, I am faced with two difficult situations. One, my father is ill and second, I have to think of how to pay back the money I borrowed from my limited salary,” Nasir said.

Another local of the garrison city, Mohammad Ashfaq, faced a similar situation when his mother’s asthma got worse and had to be put on a ventilator. There were no beds or ventilators for Mohammad’s mother at the three hospitals either.

“I called a private hospital to check if they will put her on a ventilator before taking her there,” he said.

Saying the government had ignored them, Mohammad suggested such health care facilities should be available to low income patients at state-run hospitals because getting treated at private ones is too expensive.

He asked why the government was so keen on starting up transport projects like the ones for trains and buses when the condition of hospitals worsened everyday and added that at state-run hospitals, one can only get medicine for fever and stomach aches.

Nasir and Mohammad are just two of many in the garrison city who faced problems because of a shortage of ventilators in the three hospitals.

A ventilator is a machine that supports breathing, helping with getting oxygen into the body and taking out carbon dioxide.

Though there is a shortage of ventilators in the three hospitals, a leader of the ruling PML-N, Hanif Abbasi, maintained that the provincial government had brought improvements in state-run hospitals and that they had been provided with ventilators, both for the ICUs and for other departments.

The ICU in the Holy Family Hospital (HFH) has 38 beds and the same number of ventilators, but the beds are usually occupied by accident victims.

HFH Medical Superintendent Dr Raja Shafique said the 38 ventilators in the hospital were enough to meet the requirements of the city. What creates problems, he said, was the inflow of patients from other areas.

He added that when people find there are no ventilators free to be used by their loved ones, most of them take their patients to private hospitals. They then come back to state-run hospitals after they are told of the fee they will be charged.

Dr Shafique said children, surgical and cardiac patients were prioritised for putting on ventilators and that the government had said the hospital will be provided with more ventilators soon.

The Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) has only eight ventilators when more than 50 patients usually need it every day.

Of the hospital’s ventilators, a senior doctor at BBH said: “We have a centralised oxygen supply system and oxygen cylinders are also used.”

BBH Medical Superintendent Dr Asif Qadir Mir told Dawn that though the ventilators in the ICU were in running condition, only eight patients at a time could be put on them.

“Funds for procuring 20 more ventilators were approved by the government and the process of procuring them is likely to start by the end of this fiscal year,” he said.

He said the shortage of ventilators did mean that all patients could not be accommodated and that they usually referred patients to the other two government hospitals.

The District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital has even fewer ventilators, with two of a total five ventilators not working since last year.

Former MNA Hanif Abbasi argued that the government was working to improve the conditions and facilities at government hospitals across the province and especially to those in the garrison city.

“The Holy Family Hospital was provided with 20 new ventilators and the other two hospitals will also be given two each,” he said, adding that the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology was an example of how committed the government was about improving the health sector.

On the other hand, PTI local leader Zahid Kazmi said that while the PML-N led government had spent Rs170 billion on the Orange Line and the metro bus project, it had ignored improving health facilities.

“The government will privatise government run hospitals and take away free healthcare from the people,” he alleged, saying PTI will not ‘allow’ this to happen.

Already, he said, the pathology departments in the government hospitals refer tests to private laboratories which are run by government employed doctors, working outside the hospitals and that there was always a shortage of medicines in the hospitals.

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