New Delhi: Doctors and health workers are doing the best they can to tide over the brutal, second COVID-19 wave. While the government hails healthcare workers as COVID “warriors”, patients and their families are allegedly subjected to inhumane neglect and apathy inside state-run facilities. These families tell tales of horror of their patients being admitted to such hospitals, only to go missing and be discovered dead a few days dater.
A 53-year-old woman from Delhi's Jhilmil area went missing hours after she was admitted to Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, one of the major COVID facilities in the city.
After she complained of high fever and uneasiness, Suman Verma took an RT-PCR test and tested positive. She was rushed to the Delhi government-run hospital on April 15 and lodged in the emergency ward.
“She was hungry. I was told that the patient would be given food in the hospital. But she was not given anything to eat till 5 pm that day. When I came to know about it, I had gone to the hospital with food and water but was not allowed to enter the room. Even the eatables I had brought were not passed on to her,” her husband Kamal Verma told Newsclick.
Allegedly, Suman was not shifted to a ward from the emergency room until the next evening. When her attendants returned the hospital on April 17 to inquire about her health, they were shocked to know that she was missing.
“I was unable to trace her physically and in the hospital's records; the doctors asked me to wait for an updated patients’ list, which was to come by at 9 am. When it came, it did not have her name in it. I was once again asked to wait for a second list at 2 pm which, again, did not have her name,” he alleged.
Kamal said he spoke to all the senior officials of the hospital over phone, but failed to get any information on her whereabouts.
After 40 hours, she was found dead. “What happened to her is still a mystery. They could not find her for 40 hours and suddenly I was asked to collect her body. This is not merely gross negligence but a case of murder,” alleged the broken but angry husband.
However, this is not an isolated incident which occurred for the first time.
Varun Ojha admitted his father-in-law Suresh Kumar Rai at the same hospital on November 16 last year after he complained of difficulty in breathing and chest congestion. The hospital staff took down the attendant’s contact number for updates about his tests and treatment procedures.
The patient's family got a call from the hospital at around 12:50 am on November 17, asking about his weight and height as he had to be shifted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
That evening, the patients were informed that their 72-year-old patient, who was unable walk without support, had vanished from the hospital the previous night.
Ojha frantically searched for him everywhere but to no avail. The CCTV footage of Ward Number 26 of the hospital's sixth floor showed him being taken in, but there was no sign of his exit.
The hospital staff allegedly said he went to the toilet on the intervening night of November 16 and 17 but never returned. They claimed they looked for him over 36 hours but failed.
On the evening of November 18 the deputy medical superintendent of the hospital called up Ojha to inform him that the patient’s body had been found near the operation theater on the fifth floor.
Actor-YouTuber Rahul Vohra succumbed to COVID-19-related complications on May 9. He was admitted to Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital at Tahirpur before being shifted to Ayushman Hospital — a private hospital in Dwarka — in the evening on May 8.
He had tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in a Facebook post, urging them to ensure better treatment for patients
“Mujhe bhi accha treatment mil jaata to mai bhi bach jaata.... Ab himmat haar chuka hu (If I would have got better treatment then I would have been saved....Now I have lost all courage),” he had written, sharing his patient details.
About 23 COVID-19 patients left the North Delhi Municipal Corporation-run Hindu Rao Hospital between April 19 and May 6 without informing anyone.
Reacting to the incident, the Mayor, Jai Prakash, made a bizarre statement: “They left without informing anyone, it means they might be getting better facilities elsewhere. It is happening even in Delhi government hospitals.”
Though the number of COVID-19 cases reported everyday – 13,336 officially in the past 24 hours – , the positivity rate (21.67%) and number of deaths have gone down drastically, the situation in hospitals continues to be grim. Patients are still not getting oxygenated beds, there is chaos outside emergency wards of different hospitals with doctors and nurses not attending people in distress; people are still dying without any medical assistance.
The nightmare of patients does not end even after they manage to get a bed in a facility. They then have to face the hospital’s apathy.
Preeti, whose husband was admitted to the Lok Nayak Hospital, said, “Hospitals brush us away as if we are either untouchables or animals. They do not take care of the patients properly. If those who come here are lucky, they may be able to survive. Otherwise, death is their destiny.”
After being turned down by five hospitals in the capital, she was finally able to admit her husband to the hospital.
HEALTHCARE WORKERS SPEAK OF MENTAL STRAIN
Authorities at GTB Hospital, Lok Nayak Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Hospital refused to comment on any specific allegations of negligence on their part or regarding ill-behavior with patients, but doctors and nurses deputed to the COVID sections at these flagship hospitals said it was happening because of the “mental strain and pressure” on them.
“The unprecedented surge has our healthcare system teetering; it is on the verge of collapse. We are working in stretched shifts. We are also human beings. We work in a depressing atmosphere round-the-clock where we face crying and wailing attendants begging for the lives of their dear ones. Life and death is not in our hands. It is for Gods to decide, but people pin a lot of hope on us. Doctors and nurses are demoralised now. We know we can take care of our patients in a much better way, but we don’t have time because of the slew of new patients. The beeping sound of heart-rate monitors keeps echoing even during my sleep. It’s difficult to see people under one’s care dying everyday because of the lack of resources. It indeed takes a mental toll on the healthcare workers,” said a doctor posted in the COVID ward at Lok Nayak Hospital, requesting anonymity.
Several nursing staff said they could not even vent on social media as the hospital administration had now been asked by the government to take note of such posts. The Delhi government in an order has asked all hospitals under its control to advise medical staff to refrain from talking about their problems on social media.
Delhi Health Secretary Padmini Singla has asked the Medical Superintendents, Medical Directors and Directors of all hospitals under the Delhi government to monitor news outlets and social media and react to messages about them with the aim to have their version of events out there.
Soon after the government’s order, GTB Hospital Medical Director Sunil Kumar issued a gag order for all staff engaged in COVID-19 duties.
He directed the staff not to talk to the media or post on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter without first speaking to their controlling officer. He said a violation of the order will invoke the Central Civil Services Conduct Rules, 1965, and that highlighting grievances through the news media or on social media was against the rules.
“The staff of COVID-19 duty must also be reminded that they are doing a national duty and some difficulties are inevitable, which should not be highlighted in various social media as the same may be very embarrassing for the government,” he added.
The medical staff said the government wants to silence them. “Our problems were addressed only after the media took note of it. The gag order is aimed at silencing our voices,” said a senior nursing staff at the GTB Hospital.
“We work in a very deplorable condition. Nurses were asked to vacate the hostel they were staying in at night because only doctors had to be accommodated there. The guest house we were allotted is not hygienic. Whenever we went to the media or raised these issues on a social platform, our voices were heard. Therefore, it has now been made a crime,” she said.
A doctor at Rajiv Gandhi Hospital said doctors too were like their patients. “If we fall ill, we will also not get beds. All the big hospitals under the Delhi government have reserved beds for VVIPs which cannot be occupied in any case. If needed, even we cannot be admitted there. We also scared of this deadly strain of the virus because we are exposed to it. Why will anyone take the risk if he or she does not have a guarantee of proper healthcare,” she added.
She said all medical staff these days are working on what they have in reserve, with them being “stretched beyond limits. From treating and taking care of patients and declining admission requests to giving bad news, we are constantly on our toes. Wearing the PPE for eight hours in a row is not easy. At times we get dehydrated because we have been sweating profusely,” she said and added: “We also face the threat of violence by aggrieved families.”