What demon has gotten hold of our doctors, Satheesan asks Veena George

VD Satheesan, Venna George
VD Satheesan, Venna George

Opposition Leader V D Satheesan sounded highly perplexed in the Assembly on Monday. He simply could not understand why senior government doctors would issue fake health cards to hotel and restaurant workers for a petty bribe.

"After issuing these fake health cards, won't these doctors go out with their families to dine out in the very hotels where the recipients of these health cards work," Satheesan asked during an adjournment motion on food safety in the Assembly. "How are these doctors to know which hotel or restaurant have employed the workers they had armed with a fake health card," he said.

Satheesan was referring to the General Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, incident in which three doctors were caught on camera granting medical certificates to food handlers in food business outlets without doing the mandatory clinical examination or laboratory investigations as specified under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA).

The doctors found prima facie guilty are an assistant surgeon, who was also the resident medical officer (RMO) of the General Hospital, and two casualty medical officers at the hospital. The three have been suspended by the Director of Health Services (DHS).

Satheesan was actually wondering what was happening to doctors and other employees in the Health Department. He sounded as if they were possessed by something dangerously wicked after the LDF government took over.

Satheesan said it was only the other day that a man who merely wanted his father's dead body released was badly roughed up by a group of Medical College employees. "What is happening to people in the Health Department," he asked.

Health minister Veena George largely ignored the provocation. However, she said it was only a minuscule minority that were purposefully attempting to sabotage the government's earnest efforts to clean up the food business in Kerala.

"Let us not be blind to the fact that a large majority of doctors behave in the most responsible manner. They insist on the necessary documents before issuing the health cards. My salute to such health officers," Veena George said.

Satheesan said workers in food businesses would have to be subjected to many tests - physical examination, eye test, skin test, infectious diseases check - before health cards were issued to them. Kerala Congress (Jacob) MLA Anoop Jacob, who moved the adjournment motion, said at least seven days were required to complete all these tests. "But these doctors issue health cards in five minutes flat," Jacob said.

The doctors have to fill up a form in a prescribed format after conducting seven-odd tests, including blood tests, and then affix their seal and signature.

Originally, the Food Safety Department had fixed February 16 as the deadline for all food handlers in Kerala to possess a health card. However, considering the huge number of workers and the request of hotels and restaurants, the deadline has been relaxed.

The health card was part of the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011. It was in the aftermath of a spate of food poisoning incidents across Kerala that the government had decided to strictly enforce the health card stipulation.

Opposition leader V D Satheesan said that the government should bring in transparency to the process to deter rogue elements in the medical fraternity from going the way of their colleagues at General Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram.

He suggested that the health cards should be issued through Akshaya centres to ensure sufficient documentation and transparency. The health minister did not respond to this suggestion.

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