More than four years ago, the government had decided to upgrade the Railway Hospital in Kamalapur, aiming at providing better service for railway staff and expanding its services to general people.
But all that has changed in effect is the name -- “Railway General Hospital”.
No other significant progress has been made since Bangladesh Railway (BR) and health ministry signed a memorandum of understanding in 2015, outlining its development.
The rechristened signboard at the entrance of the hospital, located on the Outer Circular Road opposite Motijheel Ideal School, and a worn-out banner advertising that the facility is open to all, are failing to draw patients, apparently due to frictions between the railways and health ministries and dormancy of the managing committee.
Established in 1986, the hospital -- located in a tranquil setting and surrounded by trees -- has been barely functioning due to limited workforce, trivial annual development and maintenance budget from the railway ministry, and dilapidated condition of medical and other equipment.
Visiting the facility multiple times between October and late December 2019, this correspondent found doctors and staffers passing idle time with hardly any patients.
In stark contrast to other public hospitals of the capital, registers of the hospitals showed fewer than 10 inpatients and 50-odd outpatients taking services of the hospital at least twice during the visits.
Asked about the poor flow of patients, Dr Abdul Ahad, member of a joint committee for the development of the hospital, said, “The reason is lack of facilities, including pathological support and insufficient medicine supply.”
“We have to send patients to other hospitals or private diagnostic centres for tests. If a patient does not get everything in one place, why would they come here?” Ahad said.
The railway divisional medical officer said they only conduct some basic tests like blood, urine and X-ray, and the hospital has no modern surgery or ICU facilities.
He said the 75-bed hospital has now been reduced to less than 40 beds due to a lack of patients.
Asked about the joint venture, Ahad said it was a good initiative, “But the health ministry has failed to fulfil expectations, by not providing the logistic support.”
According to the MoU signed on April 30, 2015, a managing committee involving officials of the two ministries (health and railways) was assigned to run the hospital with a mandate to appoint a director, form a committee to prepare an inventory list of the hospital’s movable and immovable properties, appoint necessary workforce and repair and replace non-functional medical equipment.
But the seven-member managing committee, headed by the additional secretary of Health and Family Welfare Ministry, has failed to make any progress as far as modernisation of the hospital is concerned, mainly due to difference of opinions between officials of the two concerned ministries over the possession of the property.
No inventory committee was formed yet, and the managing committee had not held a single meeting in the last two years.
Md Sherajul Islam, additional secretary of health service division and convenor of the managing committee, said he would convene a meeting as soon as possible to resolve the impasse. He, however, claimed that he was new at the post, and did not know why meetings of the committee was not held.
According to the MoU, moveable property of the hospital was supposed to be handed over to the joint committee for maintenance and development. It has not been done, officials of both ministries said. The stalemate has left the hospital in a poor condition, despite appointment of a director and seven other doctors in deputation from the health ministry.
Dr Firoj Alamgir, director of the hospital, blamed lack of publicity for poor turnout of patients.
He also said the hospital was yet to get any financial support from the health ministry apart from appointment of some doctors, adding that financial code under health ministry is required for disbursement of fund.
He said the committee appointed him to run the hospital without providing him necessary support.
GOVT BODIES AT LOGGERHEADS OVER POSSESSION
Aminul Hasan, director (hospitals and clinics) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), and also a member of the managing committee, said they attached doctors to the hospital but cannot do more in terms of logistic support, unless the railways ministry gives its nod regarding the handover of property.
Another member of the committee, Brig Gen AKM Nasir Uddin, director of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said that they had a plan to upgrade the hospital to 500-bed gradually along with developing other facilities, but the plan has been stalled on the property possession issue.
Md Shamsuzzaman, director general of Bangladesh Railway, disputed it.
“As per the MoU, the managing committee will be the authority of the hospital where a secretary of health ministry will act as convener. But he [convener] has not called any meeting for a long time.”
He also said the no hospital property of the railway would be handed over to the health ministry.
Communicated, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan had told this newspaper in November, “It has come to my notice that there has been no significant development [of the hospital]. I have directed my officials to form a committee and submit an extensive report about it.”
He said after getting the report, they would decide who will run the hospital.
Pronab Kumar Ghosh, additional secretary to the ministry of railways and a member of the committee, said they would start working after getting an official order.