Kasaragod: 'Do you need 10 years to build a Medical College?' That needling question triggered a five-minute-long one-on-one conversation between Health Minister Veena George and a college student, Mohammed Ali Jouhar (21) of Puthur village in Kasaragod, that laid bare the condition of the healthcare in the district.
The minister was about to get into her car after visiting the General Hospital when Jouhar made way through the crowd and confronted her.
In one year and a half, a multispecialty hospital has come up ( with an investment of Rs 100 crore) in Kasaragod, but why is Kasaragod Government Medical College still under construction for 10 years, he questioned the minister.
Veena George paused and engaged with the student, an undergraduate in History from Udma Government College. "Son, they (the UDF government) only laid the foundation stone in 2013. The work started only in 2016 when K K Shailaja was the Health Minister. We are working sincerely... Now the electrical work in the hospital block is going on," she said. "What you expressed, son, is the common sentiments of Kasaragod."
The minister was touring and reviewing the condition of all Taluk Hospitals, District Hospital, and General Hospital in Kasaragod district as part of the Aardram-Arogyam project.
Jouhar said he was at the General Hospital as the caregiver for his younger sister, who was admitted on Wednesday. Thursday morning, he came to know that the minister was coming to the hospital. "When she came to the General Hospital, I found her putting up a public display by opening the cupboard in the men's ward and checking the bathroom. That's why I decided to question her on the neglected condition of healthcare facilities in the district," he told Onmanorama.
"This is the 21st Century but we don't have the facilities being offered in the Kozhikode Medical College and Pariyaram medical college (in Kannur). Why are you not coming to Kasaragod often? There are many poor people like us. I am not ordering you but I am not your slave either. You are a minister because of our votes. I don't think I am doing anything wrong in questioning you," he said.
The minister pulled the student wearing a surgical mask and jersey of former Barcelona striker Memphis Depay from the crowd towards her. "You come here. I hear you. Let me tell you what I did," said Veena George.
"When I became a minister, my chief minister told me to create posts for neurologists (in Kasaragod). That was the first post I created as a minister," she said.
There was no superspecialty in Kasaragod. The minister said she started the catheterisation or cath lab at the District Hospital. Cath labs, headed by cardiologists, are examination rooms where cardiovascular diseases are diagnosed and procedures such as angiogram, angioplasty, and implantation of pacemakers are performed.
"But they are not functioning," the student said. "Come with me to Kanhangad and I will show you," the minister said.
The Cathlab, inaugurated by K K Shailaja in February 2021 started functioning earlier this year.
The minister said the government started a nursing college at the medical college on her initiative this academic year. "Kasaragod should make good progress in the health sector. I am for that," she said.
When the student persisted with the delay in the construction of the medical college, the minister said, "A medical college comes up where there are hospitals within a 10km radius."
"Here, there is no hospital even in a 30km radius. But the government is not backing off and is going ahead with the project," the minister said.
To be sure, the National Medical Commission (NMC) has allowed new medical colleges to use the District Hospital as their 'teaching hospitals' for the first five years, provided the two campuses are not more than 10km.
In Kasaragod, the Government District Hospital is 50km and the Government General Hospital is 25km from the medical college at Ukkinadka.
Jouhar told the minister that Kasaragod Medical College was offering only outpatient consultations, that too till 1 pm.
When the student said the minister had come to Kasaragod for the inauguration of a multispecialty hospital, the minister took offence to it. "Who said that? ... I have not come for any inauguration or high tea," she said.
"A mafia tried to stop me from coming to Kasaragod. Son, you have to find out who that mafia is," Veena George said.
The minister had agreed to attend the inauguration of Wintouch Multispecialty Hospital in Kasaragod on Thursday but backed off on Wednesday, according to its promoter Abdul Latheef 'Uppala' and Manjeshwar MLA A K M Ashraf.
The student said he mentioned the private hospital to draw attention to the fact that it has come up in one year and a half but the medical college is ready even after 10 years. "She said the work started in 2016. But is seven years not enough?"