In Sikkim, criticising the govt can get you fired. Ask the Superintendent of STNM Hospital
Gangtok: On December 10, Dr CS Sharma, then the Medical Superintendent of Sikkim’s STNM hospital, highlighted to a leading English Daily about ‘manpower shortage at the hospital and current health professionals being fatigued by the constant COVID 19 concern'.
The same day, he lost his job.
On December 10, vide an official notification from the State Department of Personnel, Dr KB Gurung was re-hired as the Medical Superintendent. He had previously served as PCC-cum-Medical Superintendent from April 1, 2015, until his exit following the change in the government in May 2019.
Dr Gurung was then succeeded by Dr Passang D. Phempu from mid-2019 but only for a year until his exit on June 15, 2020. Dr Phempu was succeeded by Dr CS Sharma. But now, he too has been relieved of his duty as MS in less than six months, bringing Dr Gurung back in the helm.
On Friday, Dr CS Sharma addressed the media. "I have no say on the action of the State government as it is an administrative decision. My duration as a Medical Superintendent for six months, I started and ended my tenure during the time of the COVID pandemic. I do feel it was unlucky on my part, as many reformative changes to the hospital could not be ushered during my watch. I take actions judiciously, while many have been sceptical about my slow approach to a situation".
Dr Sharma asserted that there was no explanation demanded on his supposed 'outburst' to a leading English daily in the State. "I do stand by what I have said, but it also appears that to confront is a crime in Sikkim. The decision of the government is not against me as an individual. But an efficient administration must not be dictating. I am not angry with the government but the overall system of the State. But I have no regrets on speaking out loud, and I am not backtracking from my statement,” he added.
The new (old) man in charge
Dr KB Gurung, the incoming Medical Superintendent, thanked the government for giving him a second chance at managing the affairs of STNM Hospital. Gurung was the first MS in the new STNM Hospital premises at Sochaygang during its inauguration in January 2019. On his previous exit from the post, he stated, "Ours is a transferable job. Wherever and however the government transfers us, we must go. I had been working as a forensic expert for the past one year, now with COVID-19 we have limited presence with shifts being considered. Problems in the hospital are always there. We do have the manpower, but due to COVID, it is mental fatigue among the health workers more than the physical fatigue. There are less Medical Officers, but 40 more are coming by the New Year. I work positively, and the government has given me confidence".
Dr Gurung is slated to retire in February 2021 creating another opening for a Medical Superintendent.
What does the Health Department have to say?
State Health Director-General Dr Pempa Tshering Bhutia has admitted that the former Medical Superintendent Dr CS Sharma was relieved of his role owing to his conduct. "A Medical Superintendent must not be talking against the government, as it will be labelled under conduct rule. He is talking against the head office, which is the Health Department, and we have done enough to hire 3 more superspecialists, many lab technicians, dental surgeons as doctors and even increased the number of nurses. There are shortcomings in manpower, but the government has always acted on resolving, even with the Steering Committee".
On the change in two Superintendents within six months, Dr Bhutia asserted that it was because of Dr Sharma's conduct while Dr Phempu's exit remains unknown. "Dr Pemphu was performing very well during the time of the COVID, but even the department cannot supersede some of the decisions of the government. He could be considered to be the ideal MS at STNM and could even have been considered for the re-appointment, this time gave the fact that Dr Gurung is slated to retire in February 2021. But the Chief Minister wanted someone with expertise and Gurung fits the role having served since 2015".
Why should the Medical Superintendent stay silent?
Senior doctors in the hospital requesting anonymity have claimed, "On two occasions now, Medical Superintendents have been changed for sharing the shortcomings of the Hospital. If the highest officiating Doctor in the hospital cannot speak about the shortcomings, who else will? It puts other health professionals also at risk of being transferred from their duty, if and when they speak out in public.”
Did Dr Gurung use his influence?
Sources in the hospital have also claimed that Dr Gurung used his influence to supersede many senior doctors to become the Medical Superintendent in 2015. "Normally, the specialist has to be in the hospital, not in the head office. Most in the Health Department are from the general cadre, or public health cadre. The MS is supposed to be the senior-most doctor or a specialist, and this was followed during the time of Dr Yogesh Verma till his retirement. But Gurung came out of the picture superseding at least 7-8 doctors to become the MS in 2015. There was no seniority maintained then, and since then the designation of MS has been political,” said a senior doctor requesting anonymity.
Who follows Dr Gurung when he retires in February?
After two months when Dr Gurung will retire, many believe Dr Pasang D. Phempu will be back as the Medical Superintendent. Sources say that he doesn't practice privately, which makes his ideal for the role. Sources claimed that some staff had threatened to go on strike around the time of transfer of Dr Pasang D. Phempu in June 2020. But to avoid an unworkable environment in the hospital, they did not do so. He too was vocal about several shortcomings of the hospital in the public platform. Since then, Dr Phempu has been serving as Principal Chief Consultant in the Surgery department of the Hospital.