It is one of the finest hospitals, with some of the best doctors, started by a workers’ initiative. The Shramajeevi Hospital in Belur, Howrah district of West Bengal could be an example of how inexpensive yet effective health services can be dispensed
Janab Mohammad Ashraf (17) was a casual labourer of a small engineering unit of Liluah near Howrah, who used to wash galvanised tools with acid. He had to use his mouth to pull the acid from the jar. One day while working, he was joking with his friends and by chance, sucked in some of the acid. The acid burnt his intestine. No hospital agreed to admit him, though he was fast sinking. As a last effort, his friends took him to Shramajeevi Hospital at Belur. He was immediately admitted there. The doctors replaced the burnt portion of his small intestine with parts of his large intestine and saved his life. Ashraf is now married, working in another factory and has a child. Mahendra Mahato, Bhogendra Jha and Sanat Das, who were involved with the Belur Shramajeevi Hospital since its inception, narrated his tale to SSB.
Belur resident SK Ghosh, a retired government employee, was astonished after he got himself operated at this hospital. He said, “I had a lump on my left arm. A Kolkata-based hospital quoted a Rs 10,000/- package and a day’s hospitalisation. One day, while I was passing by the Belur Shramajeevi Hospital during my morning walk, out of sheer curiosity I entered the reception area and asked whether the lump can be operated there.
The staff took me to the doctor, who told me to wait for an hour and assured that I will be back home after a short rest. I asked my wife to come with Rs 10,000/-, which we had kept aside for the operation. When I went to make the payment after the operation, I was surprised. The bill was less than Rs 200/-. I had some doubt that there must be some mistake and went back. But the staff at the cash counter said that the doctor only charged that much, as this was the cost of the operation. I saw a poster asking people to donate money generously for another project of the hospital. I donated the money remaining with me for this project.”
These are just two instances how the Shramajeevi Hospital stands by the patients and the poor people. Subrata Chakraborty, an office bearer of the Belur hospital told this correspondent how the cardiac unit was built.
“A manual labourer, engaged in construction in this hospital, was found all the time taking rest, though his job was to carry bricks. The contractor was scolding him repeatedly, but in vain. Our volunteers talked to the labourer, and came to know that he has some wheezing sound in his chest. The moment he was taken to the doctors, they discovered a hole in his heart, stating that he would need urgent surgical intervention. Such an exhausting job would kill him.
“On the other hand, if the job is taken away, he would have to starve. But the hospital at that point of time had no cardiac operation facilities. After a meeting between the doctors, volunteers and the authorities, it was decided to set up a cardiac unit to cure this young labourer. So a call - ‘Hriday Chhuye’ (Touching the Heart) - was given to collect Rs one crore, the bare minimum requirement to set up a heart operation facility. A tableau and cycle-rally went from Sarberia and Malancha of Sunderban to Siliguri in North Bengal, and in 15 days, they collected Rs 40 lakh. Besides, the AIBEA, Dr Maloy Chowdhury of IIPM and several others donated generously. The target was achieved within eight months and within the next two months, the young labourer was operated upon. On the 365th day of the collection call, the heart department was inaugurated by that labourer in the presence of a host of ministers and other dignitaries,” Chakraborty narrated to SSB.
This is what Shramajeevi Hospital is, charging only Rs 35,000/- for open heart or bypass surgeries, while no other hospital, including the government-run medical colleges, can afford to even think of such meagre fees. While pathological labs were charging Rs 60 for TC-DC-ESR tests, this hospital charges only Rs 15. This has forced corporate hospitals to half their rates, climbing down to Rs 1.50 lakh for bypass surgeries.
Phani Gopal Bhattacharya, President of the Belur Shramajeevi Swasthya Prakalpa, said, “We know that we are charging even less than what the government hospitals charge. We want to provide medical services to people at the lowest rate. We have found that the cost of medicine is about 40 per cent, which is beyond our control. But the rest of the expenses can be controlled.”
This hospital is a gift to society by the workers of sick and closed Indo-Japan Steel (IJS Limited) factory and its subsidiary, Grand Smithy. In early 80s, the factories were often witnessing ‘Closures’ and ‘Suspension of Work’ due to market shrinkage. During that period, workers used to seek help from the society to feed them, but would forget the benefactors when the factory reopened.
During this time, junior doctors were on a warpath against the government. The People’s Health Service Union of junior doctors were reaching out of hospitals to the poor people to provide health services. They were approached by the only independent (read non-CPIM) workers’ union of the IJS Limited. The union thought of starting a weekly health camp at Jagriti Hindi Vidyamandir at Kamarpara, Liluah, every saturday afternoon. To do so, they formed the Belur Shramajeevi Swasthya Prakalpa Samity (BSSPS).
“This was the beginning in 1983. Later, we started a four-bed hospital with the government’s permission in 1994,” Brahmadeo, a worker of Indo-Japan Steel, said. “The camps started drawing huge response from the adjoining labour families. Considering their demand, doctors started cataract and hydrocele operation at the camp once or twice in a year. The union also engaged its members to manufacture and market acupuncture needles all over the nation under the Union’s banner to earn the livelihood of the workers.
The journey, started 34 years ago,
was not easy. It had to withstand
attacks by mafias and pro-owner political outfits and faced prolonged legal battle it the court, only to win all
the time. The BSSPS now runs a chain of hospitals. The first one is situated
at the factory premises at Belur in Howrah district.
Another 500-bed super-speciality hospital came up at Srirampur in Hooghly district, where treatment for General Medicine, Orthopaedic, Paediatric, Gynae, Ear-Nose-Throat, Skin, Kidney, Heart, including bypass surgery, Eye and even oncology is going on. Another new hospital is coming up on a 100-acre land donated by the Ruj family at Kopai in Birbhum, a few kilometers from Rabindra Nath Tagore’s Viswa Bharati University. It has associate hospitals like Krishijeevi Hospital at Sarberia in Sundarban and its clinics at Konnagar, Ranaghat and some more towns. The Krishijeevi Hospital has started to reach out to remote villages of Bali and Manipur islands in the deltaic Bay of Bengal area. Another medical set-up
has started functioning at Kaliagunj
To minimize cost of treatment, doctors and volunteers perform their duties just for paltry honorarium. A specialised doctor gets only Rs 500 for a gall bladder operation, while he could earn 10 to 20 times more at any corporate hospital. The GDA and helpers are volunteers. About 50 such doctors and a band of 350 voluntary health workers are performing this work daily.
Dr. Anil Saha, the Secretary of BSSPS, said, “We are treating an average of 400 patients daily. More than 300 patients are admitted and getting indoor treatment. The money they pay is divided into three parts. The first part is the cost of treatment and the second part is the running cost, and the last part is to pay for staff and volunteers.”
Now it has ventured into establishing a blood bank with separator for Hooghly and Howrah districts. The Samity is establishing a Shramajeevi Pathshala, which will have paramedical courses under Jadavpur University. Talks are on with Bengal Engineering & Science University (former Shibpur Engineering College) to start Bio-Medical course there.
The Samity has declared its target to have one hospital or health centre in each block to provide health services at the cheapest rate.
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