The Dire Dearth

Absence of Women ECG Technicians in Government Hospitals

THERE is dearth of female ECG technicians in associated hospitals of GMC Srinagar and Jammu. The picture is similar in District and Sub District hospitals across Jammu & Kashmir. The number of women ECG technicians in J&K in Government run hospitals in J&K is therefore a cause for alarm. Many patients who are women, are forced to visit private diagnostic centers in search of women technicians. This is concerning female patients, as they complain that they feel humiliated and embarrassed when they are asked to undergo an Electrocardiograph (ECG) through a male technician. Reports in the media have often flagged this issue that women patients have raised on many occasions. Many have chosen to forego the procedure over this lack.

A large number of female patients visit the GMC Hospital and Super-Specialty Hospital Jammu daily. Data from last year suggests that more than 450 to 500 ECG tests are conducted in both hospitals daily. Out of these 400 to 500 patient’s 30 percent are females. Many of these female patients are subjected to ignominy and humiliation as male ECG technicians conduct the ECG.

In hospital wards especially the emergency one, more than 300 ECGs are conducted daily and a majority of the patients happen to be females but most of the tests are conducted by the male ECG technicians. In new type Primary Health Centers (NTPHCs) , Community Health Centers (CHCs) or even Sub District hospitals (SDH’s) , the situation is worse. The dearth seems to be even more dire as the lack seems to be more prominent in these.

Many places have reported cases of sexual abuse in the healthcare setup both, globally as well as locally. The infamous case of Larry Nassar, the American convicted sex offender, former USA Gymnastics national team doctor is just one well known example. In India too, many such cases have been reported. For instance, In October 2019, a laboratory technician of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) Imphal Meghalaya was sent to five-day police custody for allegedly sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl inside an ECG room. RIMS authorities later-on terminated the services of the accused technician who was working in the hospital on contract basis. As reported by media, the girl's mother said her daughter was rushed to the casualty ward of RIMS following a complaint of dysentery and fever. The doctors advised for some tests to be done and accordingly they went to the Electrocardiography (ECG) room of the hospital. Mother of the little girl was not allowed to enter the room by male ECG Technician and was made to wait outside. After some time, when the mother of the patient entered the room, the girl told her that the technician had sexually abused her.

Even as there don’t seem to be many reported cases of sexual abuse at the hands of male ECG technicians in Kashmir, this is hardly the true picture. The mechanics of our society is such that the lopsided power relations between men and women, inevitably discourage women from filing cases. This is because even when men do face legal punishments, the cost of reporting the case is paid more by the women who are subjected to multiple challenges at the hands of the society.

One such case of molestation in AIIMS is pertinent in understanding the nitty gritties of the issues.

The Principal Bench of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) New Delhi in 2012 dismissed a petition filed by a former Laboratory Technician of AIIMS namely Sanjeev Kumar. The petitioner while working as Laboratory Technician at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi was responsible for molestation of an unmarried lady on 19.01.2007 in one of the ECG Rooms of AIIMS. The technician was accused of making physical contact and advances with the female patient on the pretext of doing ECG testing.

The matter was initially inquired into by the Committee for dealing with complaints regarding Sexual Harassment of Women at AIIMS and the victim vide her letter dated 11.9.2007 confirmed her nonappearance due to reason that she being an unmarried girl and did not like to recall such a crime any more. An FIR was lodged in the matter and Mr Iqbal Singh, Sub-Inspector, Delhi Police vide his statement dated 9.4.2008 confirmed the incident. The Committee vide their report dated 23.5.2008 also held that Sanjeev Kumar guilty of charge. After considering the written representation dated 6.9.2010 the Director, AIIMS as the Disciplinary Authority passed the order dated 22.11.2010 wherein the technician was dismissed from service. He later-on challenged his dismissal order before CAT New Delhi. The tribunal dismissed his petition and upheld the order of the AIIMS Director.

in our society where crimes against women are only increasing, women deserve comfortable spaces where they feel safe. When we have separate washrooms at all the public places for males and females or seats reserved in public transport for female commuters, isn't it the moral duty of the Government to make available enough number of female ECG technicians in Govt hospitals?

While making appointments for ECG technicians, the Government never bothered to reserve some of these posts for women. Not only is this important because we need women in healthcare to make women accessing health care feel safe but it is also pertinent because women are at a disadvantaged position and often find more barriers than their counterparts in securing work opportunities due to the inherent bias against them.

Infact, we must take proactive measures to train any qualified women to become an ECG technician as this skill can be mastered easily. Even female multipurpose health workers (FMPHW) or lab technicians working in Government hospitals can be sent for 2 to 3 months ECG technicians’ course. This will ensure that the lack is resolved at all stages and the harm is mitigated immediately.

In the future, posts advertised for ECG technicians’ should be reserved for women. Under National Health Mission (NHM), women technicians must be engaged at PHC or Sub District Hospital as well. The lack of female technicians must be addressed and the resolution must permeate all levels, right from the super specialty hospitals to Primary Health Centers (PHCs).

Moreover, the government must also ensure that private diagnostic centers also have women working as ECG technicians and that their registration is issued only after this is ensured. This is the only way for us to have all bases adequately covered.

This author has recently approached the National Commission for Women (NCW) as the Government hasn’t taken the issue seriously in the past.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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