Monday, March 24, 2008

Female Mental Patients kept Naked

Female patients at the government-owned Pavlov Mental Hospital in Kolkata were found to be kept naked. This was found out when the daughter of a patient was taken to the ward to see her mother. The excuse given was that the clothes had gone for wash!! This is shocking, by itself. But what I found really shocking is something else. When the patient's doctor, who took the patient's daughter to see her mother, reacted to the treatment meted out to the patients, the employees there protested and started an agitation against the doctor!! The doctor refused to apologise. Peace returned only after the Superintendent apologised on behalf of the doctor! Apparently, the nurses thought that keeping the patients naked was not a big issue!!!

I am not going to discuss what happened. Information is available from several websites such as The Hindu, the Telegraph, FRIDA and so on. But I would like to look at the reasons why such things (which are not all that uncommon) happen.

When something like this becomes known, what the government does usually is to order an enquiry (which has been done in this case too). However, no one seems to look into why such things happen. I think this is more important than understanding what happened. How can some employees leave some helpless women patients totally naked? In fact, how can hospital employees leave any patient naked? How can women employees feel that there is nothing wrong in this? How come people become so insensitive? What is happening to our society?

I have to give special emphasis to these questions since people go to hospitals because they have problems, not for a holiday (though, apparently, there are hospitals where the wealthy go for a holiday). And what they expect are solutions to their problems, not more problems. And answers to these questions are essential if we are to ensure that such things are not repeated.

I have a few possible answers, one or more of which could have some truth. The first is that the hospital does not have enough money or manpower for proper functioning. This is a possibility since this is the condition in many government institutions.

Another possible answer is that the employees are not given proper training to handle patients, real people with real problems (mental or physical). In the case of mental patients this is particularly important since they are unable to react or demand their rights. Their situation is worse than that of criminals in prisons. No one takes what they say seriously. Therefore, nurses and other staff in mental hospitals need to be trained especially to be sensitive and empathetic to the patients and not treat them like objects, like just names in the register, like numbers in a roll. Are they trained for that at the nursing schools or after recruitment? This has to be ensured by the government. Ill treating mental patients is not going to help bring cure, even if they are given medicines.

But a question may be asked whether people can be trained to be empathetic, to be sensitive. The question is very appropriate, since these qualities are often imbibed or cultivated over a number of years. And this leads to my third explanation: Is the recruitment process appropriate? Does it select people who can handle this kind of a job? It is heartening to see that a doctor protested the treatment to the patients. We sometimes (often?) see doctors behave without empathy to their patients, doctors who behave as though their patients are just like the cadavers they have operated upon in their medical school. I have heard of doctors who wait for their bakshish to reach them before fixing the surgery of cancer patients who are suffering, whose relatives are running from pillar to post to save their bread-winner. This happens because individuals who have no aptitude for service (after all, treatment is a service) become doctors due to various reasons. What the government should do is to ensure that the selection process weeds out such individuals. This may not be as easy as it sounds, but I feel that aptitude is not one of the considerations in recruiting people for jobs, especially such jobs.

Will the government of West Bengal consider these aspects in the enquiry they conduct? Or will the enquiry remain a fact-finding mission and some scapegoats be found to tide over the present problem? I hope they will not, though my mind tells me they will.

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