Location : Government Ayurvedic College Hospital, Jammu
Circa : June 2023
I met Saksham Gupta in the corridor outside room number 23, first floor. He, along with six other patients, was waiting to be called in for Panchkarma treatment.
Saksham, 21, is a student in SMVD ( Shri Mata Vaishno Devi ) University, Katra. He told me he was pursuing a post graduation course in economics. He further told me : I hurt my spinal cord last year in an accidental fall from a staircase. Allopathic treatment helped me to a certain extent, but complete healing has yet not taken place. I suffer regular pain in the back and, many times, the pain travels down the legs, even causing numbness.
Saksham was asked to pay 1000 rupees by the therapist when he reported for the treatment to room number 23 of the Government Ayurvedic College Hospital, Jammu, on 13 June. He paid. When he asked for the receipt for the cash amount given by him, he was told it would be given later.
I was waiting for my turn to be called in for my treatment. I struck up a conversation with Om Prakash of Rehari Colony, 85, who has been suffering from pain in the back that travels down his legs. He paid Rs 300 on 14 June. He too was told by the therapist that the money receipt shall be given later.
What was I doing there ? Well, I had gone to seek Panchkarma treatment at this government ayurvedic hospital, for my nagging backache. I was recommended oil massage by the lady doctor I reported to.
On 14 June, I reported for the treatment in the same room no 23 where the therapist asked me to pay Rs 420. I paid the amount in cash. The therapist took the cash, opened the drawer of his working table and deposited the money there without even batting an eyelid ! That is it. No money receipt was issued.
It appeared as if I was in a traditional grocery shop of old Jammu city, which has not adopted the modern accounting procedures, and the therapist is the owner-cum- cashier who issues no receipt for the money received !
I expected the therapist to ask me to deposit the money with the cash counter of this government institution, and show the money receipt to him before starting the treatment. But, no, this therapist acted as the cashier of this government hospital ! He collected cash on behalf of the government and issued no receipt for it.
That day, the therapist there applied some warm ayurvedic oil to my back, for about four minutes, followed by a minute of steam spray. I had reported to him for the Abhyanga process of treatment, which usually, and traditionally, takes about 40 minutes !
He followed it up with “cupping” that is done for at least 10 minutes. He finished it in half the time.
I spoke to my friend, a former director of Ayurved, and learnt that for my kind of back problem, an average massage of 40 minutes should be followed with warm oil. I spoke to doctor-in-charge of Panchkarma treatment in the hospital under whom the therapist works. He ratified this reflection and said 30 to 40 minutes of Abhyanga massage is ideally prescribed for me.
So, on 15 June, in the supervision of doctor-in-charge, I received the prescription massage for my back, which was rather refreshing. It was rounded off by hot steam spray for about 10 minutes.
But, I fail to understand, why did the therapist behave the way he did ? Is it pardonable ? After all, he is employed as a healer, paid from the public funds. What makes him adopt short cuts and play with the health of gullible sufferers ? Obviously, it is a case of deliberate negligent medical care, which is promoted by lack of proper supervisory checks and controls.
On 13 and 14 June, I had found the office of the medical superintendent ( MS ) locked. So I could not share my experience with her. I found the phone number of the director of AYUSH under whose jurisdiction the college and the hospital works. He was rather non responsive and told me to speak to the medical superintendent. I got the number of the MS from my sources.
On 15 June, after the massage, I found the office of the MS open. I ventured into the office. I broached the issue of deficient therapeutic service offered by the official therapist.
Point blank, I asked her ( the lady MS ), if an Abhyanga procedure can be done in four minutes. The lady scuttled the question and offered no reply except wearing a smile that appeared like a mockery.
In no time, two other doctors joined us. It transpired that she had summoned them surreptitiously by giving them “missed calls” as I was speaking to her ! One of them she introduced as ” the face of the hospital”, a gynaecologist, who takes care of the international yog day preparations. He behaved like a spokesperson for the MS. I could not catch the name of the other.
I politely told her how the cash meant for payment to the government exchequer is being collected and deposited in the drawer of the therapist. She said she was not aware of this, but the gyanae doc butted in : “there is shortage of the staff. We have no cashier in the hospital. We have already taken up the matter with the directorate.” I could not believe my ears. It was a white lie.
There was a guy sitting right next to the office of the MS, issuing the OPD registration slips to the visiting patients after collecting 10 rupees per registration from them. Moreover, the hospital has an accounts’ section too. He could collect the money, which was being collected by the massage therapist, I remarked.
The gynaecologist had taken up the responsibility of defending the unfair practice and declared : thank you, Sir. We will introduce this practice suggested by you, soon. After all, we learn from seniors like you and would definitely improve the system. It is very kind of you to share your experience and guide us.
The gynaecologist appeared to be a master at telling untruth and sincerely believed that, even at 70, I am as naive as he thinks.
In the meanwhile, the doctor in charge of the Panchkarma had joined us. He boldly volunteered and admitted that the therapist was permitted to collect the cash ! This supervisor of the therapist said : he writes the details of the cash collected in his diary.
“This cash is then deposited to the directorate”, assured the gynaecologist, in continuation. So, everyone knew what improper accounting procedures are in vogue in the hospital. And each one took upon himself to speak lies and protect the unfair and unauthorised financial practices of a government institution.
In the meanwhile, the peon had brought in hot tea with some roasted millet seeds and fried peanuts. In most of the conversation in her office and in her presence, MS participated the least, as if she is an outsider who does not know what is being discussed.
On 16 June, when I reported for treatment, the therapist handed me a money receipt with a sullen face. This receipt bearing number A 6988547 is dated 13 June 2023.
Without casting any aspersions, let me share my understanding of the practices followed in this government hospital.
Dear readers, there is an accounts section in the hospital, as is evident from the signboard on one of the rooms. Moreover, there was a person collecting fees for registration of the visiting outdoor patients. So, it was untrue to say that there is no cash collecting person available in the hospital. If this person can collect a nominal amount of ten rupees from each patient, why the bigger amounts are not paid to the government through him against a valid money receipt ?
Why was a therapist allowed to collect the cash meant to be deposited to the public exchequer ? Is a masseur authorised to deal with the public funds in a government hospital ? Where is the guarantee that the money he thus collects, is properly accounted for and finally paid to the government?
It is an unacceptable case of unauthorised retention of public funds by a public servant. Doctor-in-charge had no answer when I asked him why the therapist does not give the massage himself. Why is it left to another person ( an assistant ) who himself says he is not a trained masseur ?
After lots of questioning, finally, Doctor-in-charge exploded the bomb. Even the main therapist is not a formally trained therapist, informed the good doctor. Then, how come he is employed for the past about 15 years ?
” You know, there was this embargo that we can’t enrol ‘outsiders’ in Jammu and Kashmir”, said Doctor-in-charge, an MD in medicine. It seems like a cover-up, for the therapist was born to a jawan in the army who did not belong to Jammu & Kashmir. This was revealed by the therapist himself when I engaged him in conversation on 14 June 2023.
I will cut the story short. After receiving massage at the Government Ayurvedic College Hospital, Jammu, I suffered enhanced pain in my back for the next two months.
I don’t know who to blame. Doctor-in-charge, a congenial gentleman, the therapist, the untrained therapist along with his assistant therapist, or a naive looking Medical Superintendent.
All I can say is this : first, the system needs urgent attention and overhaul. We are playing with the lives of citizens who perceive doctors as saviours. Secondly, no accounting procedures should be compromised in a government set-up.
Location : Government Ayurvedic College Hospital, Jammu