Osmania General Hospital: A decaying wonderland caught between heritage and health

Patients complain of non-availability of space while doctors blame lack of resources as treatment suffers at Hyderabad's oldest hospital.

BySumit Jha

Published Dec 15, 2022 | 8:30 AM Updated Dec 15, 2022 | 8:46 AM

Osmania General Hospital

As rain lashed Hyderabad city on 15 July, 2020, sewage water swamped the iconic Osmania General Hospital (OGH).

The deluge occurred due to the sewage water overflowing from the nearby canal, and wreaked havoc in the general wards and even the intensive care unit (ICU).

Doctors and medical students tried to use mattresses and sandbags to stop the water from entering the building, but failed.

As a result, the state Health Department closed down the old building of the hospital days after the flood and shifted all the patients to the new building of the hospital.

Since then, the old building has fallen into disuse.

This, even as hundreds of patients suffer in the city owing to lack of proper treatment at the hospital while the doctors there grieve not being able to provide it.

The new building lacks the infrastructure required to cater to thousands of patients who visit the hospital daily.

“Many patients are being sent back due to the non-availability of the beds. I am a surgeon here in the hospital, and I am unable to do operations after admitting my patient because of the lack of availability of beds,” Telangana Junior Doctors Association General Secretary Dr Vanya Jasmine told South First.

“So I have to ask them to come on a priority basis. Whoever needs an operation is put into the first group, and the second group is asked to come after a week or two,” she explained.

“This is the way the general public is suffering. If they think that their treatment is getting delayed, they choose to go to a private hospital than coming here,” she added.

A ‘healthy’ history

However, things weren’t always like this. In fact, OGH’s precursor, the Afzalgunj Hospital — established in 1866 by the First Salarjung Thurba Ali Khan, the then prime minister of Hyderabad under Nawab Mir Mehboob Ali Khan on the bank of River Musi — practised Western medicine at a time when Unani medicine was prevalent in the region.

That hospital saw the establishment of the Hyderabad Chloroform Commission in 1888. The use of chloroform was a precursor to modern-day anaesthesia, and this and subsequent commissions formed in the city made it the first to use chloroform in the medical field.

Rupa Bai

Rupa Bai with Surgeon major Edward Lawrie (sitting on her right) and Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, F.R.S. (sitting on her left). (Sourced)

In fact, Rupa Bai Furdoonji, a medical student who was involved in chloroform study, became the world’s first female anaesthetist after she graduated from Hyderabad Medical College (now, Osmania Medical College).

In 1908, Thughyani Sitambar — “flood of September” in Urdu” — shattered the life of the people living in Hyderabad, killing around 50,000 people.

It did not spare Afzalgunj Hospital, which was situated on the banks of the Musi River. The hospital was destroyed by the deluge.

It was then that Mir Osman Ali Khan, the then Nizam of Hyderabad, formed the City Improvement Board to improve infrastructure. A new medical facility was to be set up in place of Afzalgunj Hospital.

Thus it was that the Osmania General Hospital — with the building designed by British architect Vincent Jerome Esch and completed in 1925 — came into being. It was spread over 26.5 acres of land.

Esch, incidentally, also designed the high court building, the City High School, the Kachiguda Railway Station, and Hyderabad Public School.

A lifeline in several ways

The hospital used to have a bed strength of 1,400, catering to over eight lakh outpatients and 52,000 inpatients annually.

It became a premier educational institution, with about 2,000 students of medical and paramedical courses receiving instruction at the hospital

The hospital started to cater to patients from across Hyderabad state and nearby provinces.

“People used to visit from everywhere, from other states as well. The hospital is not just a heritage building but also has a great medical history,” Anuradha Reddy, Hyderabad convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit organisation working to conserve heritage buildings in the country, told South First.

A lot of new infrastructures was added to the hospital building over the years. But, the heritage site was maintained, and then started to see several accidents — from falling fans to false ceilings.

The new Quli Qutub Shah building, which was constructed later, now caters to patients who visit the hospital regularly, but is inefficient.

“I had worked in the old building. There were instances of falling of the false ceiling on a person, and the ground floor has completely submerged during the rainy season,” said Vanya.

Restoration work

The former chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, K Rosaiah, visited the hospital in 2010 and issued an order to renovate the building.

The government allocated ₹200 crore over three years to build a multi-storeyed complex while the heritage site was to be used as the outpatient ward, administrative department, and for support services.

“The plan was to demolish the Nursing College and Nursing Hostel over six acres behind the hospital where the new constructions would take place. This was not accepted by the Nursing College staff and students; there was a huge protest. They demanded that they be provided with a new space first. The entire plan remained on paper after the protest,” Healthcare Reforms Doctors Association president Dr K Mahesh Kumar told South First.

Subsequently, the Andhra Pradesh government tapped architect GSV Suryanarayana Murthy, who came up with a detailed report to save the heritage building with several interventions and new buildings around the old structure. It, too, remained on paper.

Then came a huge blow to the building in 2015 when Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao announced that it would be demolished and a new building would be constructed in its place.

However, the heritage conservationists fought against the government’s plans in Telangana High Court.

“The Osmania General Hospital building is a Grade-II B notified under Regulation 13 of Hyderabad Urban Development Authority(now Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority) and enjoys protection under the Telangana High Court ruling in the Errum Manzil case,” said Anuradha Reddy.

Suffering medicos and patients

Osmania Medical College was established on the current campus in 1846 as Hyderabad Medical College. It moved to a new campus a few kilometres away in Koti in 1966. The college attracts top-qualified doctors at its institutions.

“I joined the Osmania Medical College because it is attached to the Osmania General Hospital, where thousands of patients are coming to get treatment,” Shiva Krishna, a second-year MBBS student at Osmania Medical College, told South First.

“The footfall here is the highest in the state, and I can get the best experience here,” he added.

“However, the infrastructure is not sufficient. Seeing the pitiable sight of the building, many medicos who came from outside the state returned to their states,” said Vanya.

“Ultimately, it is Osmania’s loss. Telangana is losing many meritorious students. These medicos are not opting for Osmania because of the building site,” she rued.

“The general public is paying taxes so the government may provide them proper health services. But they are suffering because of the new building, and the lack of resources and beds,” said Vanya.

“Many of the current doctors are saying that the government has forgotten its existing hospital,” she added.

“The government has spent thousands of crores of rupees to build new super-speciality hospitals. It has forgotten the existing hospital that thousands of patients visit,” Dr Srikanth of the Osmania Junior Resident Doctors Association told South First.

“The Telangana government is spending on many new initiatives but not on the existing infrastructure. Patient care is going down by the day. Poor people are suffering. Private hospitals are benefiting from it and earning lakhs of rupees,” he claimed.

Osmania General Hospital

Students demanding new hospital. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Some doctors told South First that they are not even able to provide proper treatment to their patients.

“If I have 15 patients today, I will see whom I can adjust for today’s operation, who needs it urgently. I will do an operation on three patients today because only three beds are available. The next day, there will again be 15 patients, and so the 15th patient on the first day can get their surgery done after three-four weeks,” explained a doctor on condition of anonymity.

“The general public’s health has suffered a lot due to the non-availability of beds and treatment facilities. We are top-class doctors. Osmania is a brand, and the doctors of Osmania are top, highly-qualified doctors, but the patients are unable to get any benefit,” added the doctor.

Many of the alumni also raised their voice in concern about the old building’s structure.

“I spent about 12 years in this college, having graduated in 1988. Osmania is in a pathetic condition today. This is the only hospital to help poor people with the best quality treatment at no cost. There are many hospitals for the rich and the privileged, but this one is for everyone,” Dr Shyam Tapadia, an alumnus, told South First.

Tapadia added that his children refused to take admission to the MBBS course offered by Osmania Medical College because of the poor infrastructure.

“I felt bad when my children said they would not study medicine if I forced them to study in Osmania. They did get a seat here, but decided to study somewhere else,” he said Tapadia.

“I passed my MBBS course in 1955, and seeing the structure makes me think about the condition of the hospital,” said Dr Ved Prakash, another alumnus.

“This building itself has its own story. Hyderabad is culturally rich but its heritage structures like Osmania Hospital have been badly neglected. The heritage site should be restored. The government will be responsible if anything happens to the building and people,” he told South First.

Demands abound

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi demanded that the Telangana government build a new hospital when he visited the Osmania General Hospital in June 2021.

“We are not at all concerned about the heritage building. We are concerned about people’s lives. If you want to keep the building, keep it. If you want to demolish it, do so,” said Owaisi during his visit.

“Would you leave your home when there is some leakage? You are going to repair it, you are going to ask a plumber to come and check the leakage, and will invest some money in its repair,” said Dr S Sajjan Singh, a conservationist from Hyderabad, told South First.

“The government always focuses on building new things. For example, the old city metro is still pending construction, but the foundation stone has been laid for a new metro line,” pointed out Tapadia.

“The same thing is happening with Osmania. Here, we have been fighting for the last 10 years for the new building, but the government instead decided to build four new Telangana Institutes of Medical Sciences in the periphery of Hyderabad,” said he added.

“We are saying that the entire area should not be used as a heritage site. It should come into use for the general public. Make it accessible to the general public,” said Vanya.

“Keep the heritage building there, but make a new hospital on the land that is not occupied by the heritage site, so that it can be of benefit to the general public,” she added.

And the court case

Telangana Health Minister T Harish Rao said a few days ago that plans were afoot to construct a new building.

“The issue has been pending as some people approached the court. Recently, the state government constituted a heritage committee to look into various aspects of the issue. The proposal of the heritage committee was also submitted to the high court,” he said.

The minister added that the heritage building would be protected as it was, and nonheritage structures would be demolished in a phased manner, with new buildings constructed in their place.

“We have been fighting the case for a new building in the high court since 2019. We have not received any copy of the proposal [for the new building] from the government’s side,” HRDA chief Kumar.

He urged the government to submit the plan’s blueprint and estimated budget in court, claiming that the authorities once had the temerity to submit the plan as a Google Map extract.