In 2017, work on the 50-bed Fire Service and Civil Defence Burn Treatment Hospital in Mirpur was completed and all necessary medical equipment, vehicles and furniture were procured too. But it has been lying unused since then.
A lack of farsightedness, complexities in appointing manpower and indecision over the type of hospital and who will be the beneficiaries have led to a waste of public money.
The Fire Service and Civil Defence had demanded 152 doctors, nurses and other staff for round-the-clock health services in the hospital.
Five years down the line in 2020, the Finance Division thought there is no need for a dedicated burn hospital for Fire Service, citing Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) analysis that shows there were only 27 burn injuries in the fire department in the last 10 years.
It allowed the recruitment of 38 doctors and outsourcing of 24 other essential staff, subject to converting it into a general hospital and providing 25% of health services to the general public.
The Fire Service Directorate has balked at the cut in numbers of doctors and staffers while agreeing to the other conditions. As a result, there is uncertainty over its going into operation.
Brigadier General Md Sazzad Hussain, director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, said they cannot throw open the doors of the burn treatment hospital because they are yet to get permission to recruit the needed number of doctors and staff they had asked for.
It appears that what could have been the country's first burn hospital lost its place to the Sheikh Hasina Burn Institute that opened in 2019.
Some 330 types of medical equipment, such as, post-operative multi monitor, portable ECG, anaesthesia machine with built-in ventilator, water filter and burn tanks purchased for around Tk5 crore in 2016-2017 are getting damaged because they are lying unused for a long time.
Poor project planning
In 2013, when the government took up the plan for the 300-bed Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, the main work on the fire service burn hospital was yet to begin.
The two projects had been taken up at almost the same time. The planners could not foresee that the fire service hospital would lose importance when the Sheikh Hasina burn institute was constructed, according to sources.
The fire service authorities did not take the initiative to convert it into a general hospital even though the hospital project was revised more than once.
Burn treatment specialist Dr Samanta Lal Sen said the fire service's burn hospital is no longer needed. The project could have been reviewed during its implementation. There is a shortage of experienced doctors and medical staff for burn patients. This hospital cannot provide quality treatment if it is opened as a burn hospital.
He suggested using it as a primary burn treatment centre or a general hospital.
According to a report by the IMED, in April 2010, the number of fire service and civil defence workers in the country was 6,336, which has now increased to 12,000.
But at the time of taking up the project, it was estimated that the number of employees in 2015 would be 71,707.
Besides, the project was taken up without reviewing data of firemen's casualties in rescue operations. That is why the project does not reflect the actual needs, the people concerned said.
According to the IMED report, 77 firefighters and rescue workers suffered different types of injuries over the past 10 years between 2011 and 2021. Of them, there were 27 cases of burn injuries.
The project could have been made useful with an earlier data review.
Firefighters at the Mirpur Fire Service Training Centre said they can benefit a lot more from a general hospital instead of the specialised burn treatment hospital. They demand that the hospital be converted into a general one and open it soon to provide medical services to firemen and their family members.