Military steps in to ensure care in new ‘DRDO’ hospitals

It is not the DRDO but the armed forces that are manning these hospitals.

Eyebrows have been raised by military officials over what they have called the bureaucratic over-reach that has led to the over-stretched medical resources of the Indian armed forces being further put to use to run what have been termed as “DRDO” hospitals, but which in fact are being run by health experts and staff from the Indian military.

Army officials, who spoke to this newspaper, said that one such prominent “DRDO” Covid hospital—S.V.P. or Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel hospital near Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) office in Delhi, which was resurrected last month on 19 April, is being managed by 122 medical officers, 48 nursing officers and 120 paramedical staff from the Army, Navy and the Air force.

Similar such recently established and upcoming “DRDO” Covid hospitals in Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Varanasi and Patna are being managed by a total of at least 56-plus doctors and more than 200 nursing and paramedical staff of the Army. Despite this, they are being called “DRDO” hospitals. The number of Army medical specialists who will be deputed to these Covid hospitals will increase in the coming days for public good, Army sources said.

Officials told this newspaper that the military has also formed a contingent of 33 doctors, 69 paramedical staff and 34 nursing staff for another such 450-bed DRDO hospital in Lucknow as it is located in the VIP Lok Sabha constituency of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. This hospital is likely to start functioning in the coming days. A similar setup is already being executed at Varanasi, with at least 35 doctors from the military being tasked to manage it.

According to military officials, who spoke off the record, considering the issue involves two different arms of the Ministry of Defence, the “DRDO” hospital in Delhi was branded as a DRDO hospital despite the fact that not a “single DRDO scientist was involved in either the planning, running or execution of services at the hospital”.

A senior military officer, while speaking to this newspaper, said that the DRDO has promised the government something that it cannot deliver on its own.

“DRDO has promised the government that four more hospitals will be set up. One has to understand that the most important and crucial part of this entire operation, i.e., provisioning of medical personnel and facilities such as instrumentation have been left to the ‘discretion’ of the armed forces. Now the question arises, from where will the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff needed to run these hospitals come from? Obviously from the Indian Armed Forces with support from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs). It is important to add that this ‘buffer’ (medical support) of the armed forces, which was to be used only in case of emergencies, has already been used in the first instant (referring to the first Covid-19 surge in 2020). The DRDO, apart from erecting a banner and sending a single person, who is an inventory manager, is not playing any other role in the Delhi hospital”, the officer claimed. However, he added that the military was always glad to assist in ensuring health security to the people of India.

This newspaper reached out to DRDO for their comment on the developments. In their response, DRDO sources said that the medical establishments were being managed jointly with some aspect being taken care of by the armed forces and the rest being handled by the DRDO. “All the medical officers, and paramedical staff are from the Armed Forces Medical Services. The hospital was set up by DRDO and facility management issues like supplies of medicines oxygen etc., are being taken care of by DRDO. Admission of patient and medical care are with AFMS doctors. The Commandant is also a Major General of AFMS”, an official source with the DRDO told this newspaper.

According to another Army official, it may be more appropriate to call these hospitals Indian Armed Forces hospitals. “The Ministry of Defence needs to sort this out. It is about recognizing the efforts that the military is putting in”, the official said.

“We are tending to our own men and their dependents and on top of that we are assisting the civilian population by using our ‘excess capacities’. We are doing what the private hospitals were supposed to do. Bureaucrats need to understand that the Armed Forces Medical Corps has a very special work to do, in war and peace that directly affects the nation’s security. You cannot start treating it as any other medical service and not even give it credit for delivering care to Covid-19 patients,” the official added.