Nurses at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), country’s premier healthcare institution, on Monday protested over consistent refusal to meet their demands and maintained that a delayed response would result in more cases of infection among healthcare workers limiting the capacity to combat the pandemic.
The nurses have been demanding a reduction in duty hours, personal protection equipment (PPE) kits and a dedicated area for changing kits. AIIMS has witnessed more than 200 cases of coronavirus infection among its staff members and three staff fatalities including sanitation head Heera Lal. This highlights the lackadaisical approach of the administration towards testing and providing safety kits to staff.
Talking to NewsClick, Harish Kajla, President, AIIMS Nurses’ Union, said, “Currently, a nurse serves for six hours at a stretch wearing personal protective equipment in the hospital. For this period, they cannot drink water, go to the toilet, etc. Now, this has given rise to a slew of health issues. Many nurses have fainted, some even vomited inside the kit. The nurses are complaining about weight loss because you sweat profusely and lose a significant amount of water from the body. Thus, we demand a reduction in duty hours at a stretch. Similarly, we demand a dedicated doffing area where the staff could change their PPE. Right now, it’s a common area and other people could get easily infected. We tried to have a dialogue with the administration. The administration must understand it because a sick and infected workforce would limit our capacity to deal with the pandemic.”
Moving beyond nurses, reports highlight a not so ideal picture at the institute. A report by The Tribune has claimed that the institute did not proactively test its staff for Covid-19 first hand when they complained about showing symptoms. Sanitation Chief Heera Lal was sent home and told to report if he further develops any symptoms on May 15, it says. By May 19, he needed ventilator support and died on May 24. Kuldeep Singh, general secretary, AIIMS New Delhi SC ST Association, said that the sanitation staff were not provided safety gears to protect themselves.
Similar issues were flagged by the doctors at the institute who alleged that they were provided substandard N-95 masks, which failed to comply with the standards set by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Although the doctors are tight-lipped expecting a backlash from the administration, the chats of doctors accessed by NewsClick suggest that the mask bands broke after or during the first use itself. A doctor wrote that she was stapling the bands to the masks for using it.
The administration, however, seems to be in combat mode while handling its criticism. Dr Sreenivas Rajkumar, a vocal doctor has been handed a show cause notice for a tweet in which he claimed the N95 masks did not comply with the standards set by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The notice read, “At a time when the nation is fighting against a pandemic, unsubstantiated statements such as these can damage the morale of frontline healthcare workers, leading them to doubt the protection available to them. Dr Srinivas has provided no evidence to support his claims, and despite access to institutional mechanisms for grievance redressal, has chosen to voice his claim on a public platform and sought media visibility to malign the institution. This has been viewed very seriously. Accordingly, Dr Srinivas is hereby directed to show cause why action should not be taken against him for the breach of CCS (CCA) Rules by 5 PM, June 3rd 2020.”
Responding to the notice, Rajkumar said, “I want a clarification from MOHFW and ICMR; are the stats released by the government on N95 per day [useful] and [are the masks] able to offer protection as claimed? Are they NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] certified? Do they pass the fitness test? Intense scrutiny of an elected representative’s personal tweets raises fear of Orwellian surveillance [by the] state during a pandemic.”
Story Beyond AIIMS
Laxmi, a lab technician at Acharya Bhikshu Hospital, run by the Delhi Government, alleges that she was admitted to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital on May 29 in the evening. In a viral video, gasping for the breath, she said that the conditions are so abysmal that she had to clean the bed herself. Even after two days of admission, she was visited by a doctor once and her family members were yet to be tested.
The crisis seems to have escalated beyond control in another hospital, Chacha Nehru Children’s Hospital in Geeta Colony, where its blood bank issued a circular to the staff requesting them to donate blood to meet the requirement. The circular read, “In view of the extreme shortage of voluntary blood donations, we as a blood storage centre, are facing a lot of problem in getting blood from other blood banks as Lok Nayak Hospital is converted to Covid care centre and we are not getting any support from there...Kindly encourage and motivate your staff for voluntary blood donation.”
Director B L Sherwal was not available for a comment on the development.
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