Srinagar: More than a month after an enquiry began into the sudden death of 37-year-old Kashmiri journalist Mudasir Ali by cardiac arrest, his family and colleagues are anguished by the ‘criminal silence’ maintained by Jammu and Kashmir’s Directorate of Health Services.
Ali, who was associated with Greater Kashmir and freelanced for several national and international publications including The Wire, passed away on November 20 at Charar-e-Sharief sub-district hospital in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district after the doctor on duty at the time allegedly failed to provide him basic life support. His sudden demise was widely condoled across J&K as well as India’s journalist fraternity.
According to Jehangir Ali, Mudasir’s brother who is also a journalist, the doctor on duty had delayed Mudasir’s emergency treatment and instead of stabilising the patient, had referred him to Srinagar.
On November 26, in accordance with an order from the director of Kashmir’s health services, a three-member committee headed by the deputy director, health services, Kashmir (schemes), Dr Abdul Rashid Najjar was constituted to investigate Ali’s death.
But though the committee filed a ‘preliminary report‘ on December 2, it was not shared with Ali’s family. Instead, according to Greater Kashmir, the report stated that there had been lapses at “multiple levels” during the handling of the patient, Mudasir Ali, by the medical staff at Charar-e-Sharief sub-district hospital and the matter required “an in-depth inquiry”.
Greater Kashmir’s report on the committee’s findings said the committee had recommended that the doctor who had been on duty at the time, as well as the staff of the critical care ambulance that had taken Ali to the hospital, be removed from their postings and attached to the health department.
However, the health department is yet to complete its investigation into Jehangir Ali’s allegations of the “poor facilities and delayed treatment” Mudasir Ali had received at the hospital.
‘They are buying time’
On Monday, the Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA) alleged in a statement that a group of doctors associated with the Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) are conniving with the health authorities to shield the culprits.
“We have been waiting for the outcome of the enquiry for a month now. It seems the health department wants to hide its failures and hush up the case. Let it be clear to all that the journalist fraternity of Kashmir will pursue the case until Mudasir, his family and friends get justice,” said Samaan Lateef, general secretary of the KWJA.
Lateef asked: “Why did the doctor ask the patient to walk upstairs for an ECG despite knowing that he was complaining of severe chest pain and breathlessness?”
Denying these allegations, DAK president Dr Suhail Naik told The Wire that it is “highly impossible” that doctors from his association would indulge in such an act.
“We don’t interfere in any inquiry committee regarding any medical negligence. We wait for the final report and respect it,” he said.
However, he added, he will personally look into the allegations of the journalists’ body to see whether any member of the association is involved.
Jehangir Ali asked The Wire how much time the authorities need to check that a stretcher and other basic facilities had not been available in the hospital at the time of his brother’s death.
He said he had recorded his statements before the committee shortly after it was tasked with the investigation. However, they refused to share the preliminary report with the family.
“They want to buy time so that the case is lost from public memory,” Jehangir alleged.
Not only was there no stretcher available for Mudasir that night, said Jehangir, there was also no oxygen available on the ground floor and Jehangir was asked to take Mudasir to the second floor.
“My brother was gasping for breath. He repeatedly asked the doctor to put him on oxygen. As we climbed the stairs, Mudasir’s condition worsened and he collapsed in my arms,” Jehangir told The Wire.
The head of the inquiry committee, Dr Abdul Rashid Najjar, told The Wire that the final report into Mudasir’s case would be submitted in “the coming days”. He said there was a demand to investigate the case “deeply” which is why the final report is delayed.
“We had to create another expert committee consisting of an orthopaedician and a cardiologist to probe several angles of the cases and I think within two days we will submit the report,” Dr Najjar said.
Dr Samir Mattoo, director of Kashmir’s health services, rejected the allegations of Ali’s family and colleagues that the case was being hushed up. “It takes time because we have to look into all possible angles. Why would we cover up the report?” Dr Mattoo said.