Rajat Sharma

Why private doctors refuse to open their clinics?

akb3010In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on India TV Thursday night, we showed videos of how patients were lying on beds in Mumbai’s Sion and Cooper hospitals, while dead bodies of those who died of Coronavirus were wrapped in black polythene covers and left lying on beds in the same ward.

Just imagine the level of trauma and depression that COVID-19 patients must have undergone in those hospitals. Nobody had ever imagined that things would deteriorate to such a level in a city like Mumbai.

BJP leaders Nitesh Rane and Kirit Somaiya posted these videos on social media alleging that bodies are not being sent to mortuaries and are lying on beds for more than 24 hours. The video from Cooper hospital was posted by Raj Thackeray’s party leader Akhil Chitre. Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar went to the hospitals and ordered probe.

India TV reporter Rajiv Singh went to both the hospitals. Doctors told him that the bodies were not left lying on beds due to negligence. In some cases, COVID-19 test reports were being awaited.

Doctors said, there were instances when bodies were handed over to relatives but later the test reports showed that the patients had died of Coronavirus. The health workers had to trace all contacts including those who had attended funerals and condolence gatherings.

The standard protocol is that the body of a Corona patient cannot be handed over unless the test report arrives, and if the report is positive, the cremation has to be done under full security by health workers. Only a few family members are allowed to attend.

Asked why the bodies were not kept in mortuaries, doctors pointed out that all the bodies were wrapped in black polythene because there was shortage of body wrap covers. They pointed out that the videos were probably taken when the bodies were wrapped in black polythene.

When a patient dies of Coronavirus, the body is thoroughly sanitized and then the body is wrapped in covers. This process takes time, and, according to doctors, there are health workers who are unwilling to carry out this process out of fear, though they are provided with PPEs.

After processing, the family members are called and the body is sent for funeral. The dean of a hospital said that in several cases, family members even refuse to take bodies and disconnect phone calls. This results in piling up of bodies in mortuaries.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Mumbai has already crossed 11,000, while the total cases in Maharashtra is nearing 17,000. In one day, 1,250 fresh cases were reported. There was report of 72 prisoners and 7 jail staff reporting Corona positive in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail.

Conditions in some Mumbai hospitals may be bad, but overall preparations to tackled COVID-19 are in full swing.

A mega hospital with 1,000 beds is being set up at Bandra Kurla Complex. Its capacity can be expanded to 5,000 beds. Isolation wards have been prepared at Mahalaxmi Race Course, Nehru Science Centre and Nehru Planetarium. The number of ICU beds in Mumbai for critically ill patients has been increased from 200 to 10,000.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has requested Army, Navy and Railways to keep ICU beds ready if required. These preparations are being made because a central team had predicted that the number of Corona patients could reach 6,50,000 by end of May. Though doctors in Mumbai do not agree with this assessment, yet the state government has set up a task force of nine top doctors to supervise treatment of COVID-19 patients.

There is one flaw left. Most of the private doctors in Mumbai, who work in private hospitals or run nursing homes, have stopped working. Private nursing homes are not opening because if a single COVID-19 patient comes, the entire staff will have to be quarantined and the nursing home has to be practically sealed.

Maharashtra chief minister has appealed to nearly 25,000 private doctors to resume working. The state government has threatened to cancel their licences if they do not resume work. The state government has directed that all private doctors, except those with serious ailments or above 55 years of age, will have to resume work and treat COVID-19 patients as per standard protocol for at least 15 days in a month.

There are reports that private doctors have stopped working in UP, MP, Gujarat and Bihar too.

In Bihar, many government doctors too have stopped reporting for duty. Nearly 362 doctors have been reported absent from duty in 37 district hospitals. Notices have been issued to these doctors by the state government threatening legal action. On the other hand, private doctors in Bihar have closed down their hospitals and nursing homes since March 22.

There are 48,000 beds in private hospitals, while there are 22,000 beds in government hospitals in Bihar. All the government hospitals are presently bearing the burden of looking after COVID-19 patients. A senior Bihar government official said that more than 90 per cent of private doctors are not even treating patients having common diseases. Nearly 90 per cent OPDs in hospitals have stopped functioning.

Similarly in Gujarat, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has threatened to cancel licences of all private hospitals and nursing homes if they do not reopen and start treating patients within the next 48 hours.

In Uttar Pradesh, the story is a little different. Private hospitals stopped working because of strict action taken by the state government. In Agra, three private hospitals had treated COVID-19 patients and discharged them without informing the government, resulting in spread of the Coronavirus disease in the city. FIRs were filed against the hospital owners and doctors, following which most of the private hospitals in the state stopped working.

UP health minister says, staff working in 660 private hospitals in the state have now been trained on how to treat COVID-19 parients. There are nearly 5,000 private hospitals and nursing homes, and out of them 660 hospitals have been given permission to treat COVID-19 patients by following standard protocol.

Doctors in both government and private hospitals are, no doubt, putting in their best while treating COVID-19 patients. They undertake risks to their own lives. The nation respects these doctors and health workers. But to play truant and refusing to treat even common patients, like those doctors in Bihar, is a sin.

The government should try to address the fears and problems of private doctors and hospitals who are unable to resume work. It extraordinary times the solutions also have to be extraordinary.

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