Delhi nursing home fire tragedy exposes systemic failures in healthcare regulation

The fire that claimed the lives of eight newborns at an unlicensed neonatal clinic reveals glaring gaps in enforcement of safety standards and more.

Published : Jun 01, 2024 11:57 IST - 3 MINS READ

On the night of May 26, a fire broke out at the Baby Care New Born hospital, a private neonatal nursing home in East Delhi’s Vivek Vihar, killing eight newborns. 

On the night of May 26, a fire broke out at the Baby Care New Born hospital, a private neonatal nursing home in East Delhi’s Vivek Vihar, killing eight newborns.  | Photo Credit: Vitasta Kaul 

On the night of May 26, a devastating fire broke out at the Baby Care New Born hospital, a private neonatal nursing home in East Delhi’s Vivek Vihar, leading to the tragic deaths of eight newborns. The infants who survived the blaze, but are being closely monitored. According to the Nursing Home Cell (a unit of Delhi government’s Directorate General of Health Services), the hospital’s registration had expired on March 31 and had not been renewed. Moreover, the hospital was permitted to admit only five patients but there were 12 babies admitted in the hospital that night.

The fire, which reportedly started at the front of the building, where oxygen cylinders were stored, engulfed the small nursing home and spread to the buildings on either side. Rohit Sharma, a guard at IndusInd Bank, adjacent to the hospital, was on duty when the fire broke out. He told Frontline, “When I first noticed it, it was a small spark that started from the top floor. Within a few moments, it engulfed the entire building.” The glass of the bank windows shattered.

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Amidst the chaos, neighbours played a leading role in rescuing babies from the back of the building. Roshan Lal, in his 50s, and his wife sprang into action. “We saw a nurse fleeing from the back door,” Lal recounted. “She admitted that there were 12 children inside and urged us to save them. The entire staff had vanished. If they had stayed, they could have saved at least one child each.” Local residents managed to rescue some infants from the back of the building using ladders and by breaking sections of the building. Locals took the children from the place of the accident to the nearest nursing home.

Ramji Bhardwaj, the attending doctor at East Delhi Advance NICU Hospital, where the rescued infants were taken to, said: “The moment we got to know that there had been a fire, we began preparing for the situation. At 11.45 p.m, the babies started coming in. Within half an hour, we had all 12 babies in our care.” Six infants were brought dead, and another passed away shortly. “The babies were hyperthermic, blacked out from the carbon,” Dr. Bhardwaj explained. The five surviving infants were shifted to a government hospital later in the night as multiple people gathered to identify the children.

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The fire department’s allegedly delayed arrival, nearly an hour after the fire started, added to the calamity. According to Lal it was only when the blasts stopped that the fire brigade began dousing the fire in the building.

Meanwhile, The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights took suo-motu cognisance of the incident . Their investigation revealed that the nursing home had no emergency exit, a serious violation of the National Building Code of India, 2016. There were no fire extinguishers and functioning automatic water sprinkler systems, breaching the guidelines of the National Disaster Management Authority. Initial investigations by the police and fire department revealed that the hospital did not have a fire clearance.

The Divisional Commissioner Ashwani Kumar has directed the district magistrate of the Shahdara district to inquire into the fire tragedy. As per agency reports the Delhi government has issued directions to all private and state-run hospitals to complete a fire audit and submit a compliance report by June 8.

Vedaant Lakhera and Vitasta Kaul interned with Frontline during the month of May 2024.

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