In the years that followed Independence, the Indian Navy’s presence in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands gradually increased in keeping with the strategic maritime importance of these islands. However, there was no service hospital to provide medical cover and the only civil hospital in Port Blair – GB Pant Hospital was extending medical facilities.
With increasing personnel being deployed for longer durations, it became imperative for the Navy to have a hospital of its own in this geographically isolated location. Sanction was accorded for the establishment of a 25-bedded Naval Hospital at Port Blair in Jun 73.
Initially called Naval Hospital, Port Blair and located at Haddo, the hospital was inaugurated on 01 Aug 74. On 07 Oct 74, it was commissioned as Indian Naval Hospital Ship Dhanvantari with Surg Cdr OP Chawla as its first Commanding Officer.
Increasing number of patients created the need for more space. The hospital was relocated to the old Base Victualling Yard area in Port Blair in Mar 78 where the buildings were barrack-type and reappropriated for use as hospital wards. Almost a decade and a half would pass before INHS Dhanvantari would, as a 107-bedded hospital, move to modern and specifically designed hospital buildings in Minnie Bay on 05 Aug 92. The new hospital complex was inaugurated by VAdm SK Chand, AVSM, Fortress Commander, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. .
Initially, the hospital was under the administrative control of the Fortress Headquarters based at Port Blair, which in turn was under the Eastern Naval Command. On 08 Oct 01, with the formation of the Tri-Services Andaman and Nicobar Command, this hospital was placed under the Commander-in-Chief, Andaman and Nicobar Command.
The role the hospital has played over the years in providing assistance and humanitarian aid to the civil authorities in various situations has earned acclaim from all quarters and this was formalized when the hospital was awarded the Honorary Lieutenant Governer‘s Commendation on 15 Aug 02.
Hospital Crest and Name
The hospital crest depicts the Hindu god of healing – Dhanvantari - with waves in the lower part of the crest symbolizing health and healing cover being provided to the seafarers.
The hospital is named after the same Hindu god who is the Physician to the Gods and is credited to be the first one to successfully perform surgrey. He is also the master of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine. Naming the hospital after Dhanvantari symbolizes positive health, timely healing of ailments and ancient medical knowledge.
Growth and Modernization
From the initial strength of 25 beds in 1974, increases in deployed strength and subsequent expansions of units led to the increase in the bed-strength of the hospital.
Increasing patient-load resulted in the posting in of various Specialist Medical officers over the years and gradually, the hospital that started with 25 beds, transformed into the sole secondary medical cover provider for all three Services in the entire Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
With the shifting of the hospital into the new complex in 1992, INHS Dhanvantari became a full-fledged, modern secondary care hospital. The hospital now provides multi-specialty cover and includes the Departments of Medicine, Surgery, Anaesthesia, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Pediatrics, Anaesthesiology, Otorhinolaryngology, Ophthalmology, Radioimaging, Pathology as well Dental services.
In addition to the new buildings, INHS Dhanvantari has also seen major modernization in terms of creation of facilities like Intensive Care Unit, Labour Room, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Blood Bank, Burns Centre and Telemedicine Centre. A recent addition is the new generation CT Scan machine. The hospital is poised for further expansion and will, in the near future, become a 300-bedded hospital to provide comprehensive medical facilities to the personnel and families from all the Services.
In the initial years, the Commanding Officer of the hospital was of the rank of Surg Cdr. In 1981, the rank of the Commanding Officer was upgraded to Surg Capt and Surg Capt YC Sharma was the first CO in this rank.
The hospital was mandated to provide comprehensive medical care to the Service personnel and their families as well as the ex-Servicemen and their families residing in the islands. The quality of the care provided has steadily increased and now compares with the best available anywhere in the rest of the country. Operationally, the hospital’s role is to provide combat medical cover during amphibious operations as well as during hostilities in these Islands.
In addition to the care provided to the entitled population, by virtue of its unique location, the hospital also conducts frequent outreach programmes in the form of medical camps at various isolated and far-flung islands as and when tasked to do so by higher authorities. Again, with the expertise available, the hospital works in close conjunction and in an advisory role with the local administration in the delivery of health care to the civilian population of the islands.
As with any other Service Hospital, INHS Dhanvantari also has a quick response plan for moving medical relief material and personnel in the event of natural disasters and other mass casualty situations. The operational capabilities of the hospital in a disaster situation were amply evident during the relief operations following the Tsunami in December 2004 when the teams from the hospital performed a really commendable task at very short notice despite the prevailing adverse circumstances.
The ECHS Polyclinic is now functioning at the hospital premises and provides medical cover to the ex-servicemen in these islands. In addition, by virtue of its location, the hospital performs the role of a depot for demand and issue of consumable medical stores for smaller medical units and ships based in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.