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Hospital safety in paper audits; realistic norms, fire drills missing

Mumbai, Mar 27, 2021

MUMBAI: Are fire safety measures in hospitals on life-support? It may appear so with the blaze at Sunrise Hospital being the second such at a Covid-19 hospital in Bhandup-Mulund in the last six months.

The tragedy was also a reminder of the fire in Bhandara that killed ten infants in January, creating a national uproar. In these three incidents over six months, 23 patients have lost their lives. In 2018 similarly, 13 patients, including infants, lost their lives at a fire in ESIC Hospital, Andheri.

Following the Bhandara fire, an audit was ordered in Mumbai like the rest of the state, which many city hospitals called a knee-jerk reaction without any real intention to review the ground situation. The civic body served notices to 178 private hospitals and nursing homes for major fire safety violations out of 1,073 inspected. A civic official told TOI that Sunrise too was served a notice for not fulfilling norms.

In the interim, two more patients died after smoke engulfed Mulund’s Apex Hospital due to a short circuit in a generator. One died in transit, while another died a day later. After the blaze, the BMC set up a four-member committee that prima facie found no negligence on the hospital’s part and concluded they had followed all protocols while transferring patients. However, the hospital is barred from admitting Covid-19 patients.

In the Bhandara incident, the government panel mainly found faults with healthcare staff, seven of who were suspended for negligence. The hospital was reportedly working without a fire NOC since inception. In the ESIC fire, the department didn’t hold anyone responsible, and the hospital continues to be defunct.

A senior doctor-cum-owner of a SoBo nursing home said the problem with audits was they are not done in the right spirit and are much like the annual inspections that remain on paper. “No fire official has stepped into my hospital for four years now. There are third party agents and agencies who take care of this business. I take my own precautions,” he said. Dr Lalit Kapoor, a founder member of the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC) said fire norms are imperative, but they must be practical too. “Small 10-15 bed nursing homes have the same requirements as big five-star hospitals. There is no middle ground,” he said. The AMC has engaged with government to form a panel to study the feasibility of existing norms, but things haven’t moved much.

Another hospital proprietor said hospital fires “grab more eyeballs because people who are already sick are affected. But it is time to look at fire norms objectively. For instance, painting fire retardant doors that cost thousands are a hindrance for smaller establishments,” he said. Instead, focus should be on fire extinguishers, entry exit doors, periodic drills, he said.

BJP MLA Mihir Kotecha said BMC had failed to do fire audits of hospitals before allowing them to admit Covid-19 patients. “There must be a detailed fire audit of all Covid-19 hospitals,” Kotecha said.

Hospital safety in paper audits; realistic norms, fire drills missing
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