Lengthy bureaucratic process costs a life

l Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu


Call it Red tapism or impotence; the man hit by an arrow on September 23 in Trashigang succumbed to the injuries because he could not get immediate medical attentions.  And now, the family and relatives of the deceased hold the concerned officials culpable for his death.

According to Lobzang Tashi, a Merak resident, helicopter never reached there to provide medical evacuation and the concerned health officials delayed in attending the patient.

“As soon as he was hit, at around 2.30 PM, we referred him at Rangjung Basic Health Unit (BHU). We were then asked to take him to Trashigang hospital. But by then, our patient was in very critical condition,” said Lobzang.

He mentioned that despite the moribund health of the patient, the doctors in the hospital could do nothing much to save his life.

“We had to wait there for two hours hoping for the helicopter to air-lift our patient,” said Lobzang.

“Then we had to travel for the whole night to reach Guwahati Hospital. And by the time we arrived there, we were very late. The patient passed away,” Lobzang added.

He said that the prompt helicopter service could have saved his brother’s life.

Tshering Wangdi, a businessman, said that all the concerned officials involved should be held responsible for the death of the patient.

“When I dialed 112, the voice there told me that Dzongkhag health officials have to verify the condition of the patient first before asking an aid from helicopter service. And where were the officials who were supposed to investigate the gravity of the case?” he said.

He also said that he called the health minister personally but only to be informed that the chopper could not fly beyond Dochula due to bad weather condition.

“We do not understand how the choppers can fly in our places when the Prime Minister and his cabinet members visit us. Even in rainy days, we have had ministers visiting on the choppers,” said a villager from Merak.

A civil servant in Trashigang said that this case is déjà vu of Chukha incident where six young boys lost their lives to a swelling river. “The present ruling government then bashed the former government for being ineffective to save lives of the boys. Today, we have helicopters but what is the use if they cannot save lives,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited (RBHSL), Chewang Gyeltshen, said that they did their best to send the helicopter to air-lift the patient.

“We have no authority to send our choppers as and when we wish. Medical evacuation is done only when we receive directives from the Ministry of Health,” he said.

“We received the directive very late that afternoon and Trashigang is over one and half hour flying distance from our station. Moreover, weather condition was very bad over Dochula and we do not have an alternative route. Thus, we could do nothing,” added Chewang Gyeltshen.

The Cabinet Secretary, Kinzang Wangdi, who is also the Chairman of RBHSL, said that the report on this incident is overtly bashing the government.

“I think it was very unfortunate that the accident took place towards the late afternoon. As reported, the accident happened at 2:30 PM and I am sure that by the time the patient was referred to BHU, it would have been 3 PM. I do not know when exactly the request for chopper was made but it takes at least one hour to fuel and get ready to take off as per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP),” said the Cabinet Secretary.

“As per the record of helicopter dispatch plan, the chopper was to take off at 3:50 PM. However, owing to bad weather, the helicopter could not fly past Dochula. They waited hoping for the weather to get better but because the daylight officially ends at 5:57 PM, they could not take off later because then the chopper would not have been able to make it back to Thimphu with the patient,” he added.

He mentioned that this case cannot be put parallel to the Chukha incident. “In the case of Chukha boys, they had more than six hours to react. But in this case, there was hardly three hours and that too was compounded by bad weather,” said the Cabinet Secretary.

Regarding the cabinet members making to Merak-Sakteng on helicopters under rainy conditions, he said that maybe it was because time favoured them.

Meanwhile, despite making several calls, the concerned officials in Trashigang denied giving  clear responses to our queries.

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