Lucknow: A day after the whole country clapped and clanged utensils from their balconies amidst the 'Janata Curfew' call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express gratitude to those providing essential services during the coronavirus pandemic, a shocking video of a nurse staff of Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Lucknow is doing rounds on social media. The purported media shows hospital staff scrambling for masks and even doctors attending to patients suspected to be infected, can be seen without Personal Protective Equipment or PPE.
Shashi Singh, deputed at Ram Manohar Lohia Institute in Uttar Pradesh’s capital as a nurse, alleged there was no such facility (of PPEs) for nurses who are directly in the contact with suspected patients. A few doctors, pharmacists and lab technicians have masks and safety gears, but nurses have been given just plain masks. Singh alleged that not even sanitisers were being provided.
"This problem is not confined to Ram Manohar Lohia Medical Institute but across such facilities in Uttar Pradesh. We were given clear instructions for dealing with suspected coronavirus and swine flu patients. We are also asked not to share the mask shortage issue with media persons. But, is this country so poor that it cannot even provide PPE to its nurses and doctors?" Singh, secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Nurses Association, said.
"Being the secretary of the nurses’ association, it's my duty to get protection kit while we are treating suspected patients. Every nurse across the state deserves the safety gear, but we have been left begging for masks and PPE. In fact, the government should think about providing protection to all nurses. Nurses are contractual workers, working on Rs 7,000-10,000/month, no pension, no job security, and now even our lives are at stake," she told Newsclick, almost in tears.
Singh also alleged that the hospital authority had threatened to dismiss her from the hospital if she continued speaking against the shortage of masks and other problems being faced by nurses.
"Where is the budget allocated every year to hospitals going? The media should ask every hospital whether they buy safety gear for their staff or not, as no nurse ever get it. How can the administration be so insensitive towards nurses?" she added.
Meanwhile, nurses in UP have threatened to go on strike or will stop coming to hospital if they are not given proper Personal Protective Equipment.
A nurse, on the condition of anonymity, said if the government can arrange huge facilities, including a lavish hospital at the Kumbh Mela, why can’t it arrange the same here in hospitals where the life of patients are at stake?
When asked, Dr PK Das, professor junior grade at the anaesthesia department at Ram Manohar Lohia Combined Hospital, told NewsClick: "We are distributing surgical face masks, N95 mask and PPE kit where these are needed the most, according to WHO guidelines. Since there is panic everywhere, everyone is asking for PPE and N95 masks, which is not possible, as we kept these for emergency, isolation wards and the fever clinic for those patients coming from outside.”
The doctor said they were giving PPE to people coming in contact with patients of isolation ward. “There are certain areas where nurses asking for the same. We have estimated that for a10-bed isolation ward, we will need around 80 PPEs per day, and we don't know how many beds we will have to create later," he added.
KGMU Scrambles For PPE, Masks
Meanwhile, the Resident Doctors Association of King George's Medical University, Lucknow, has also written a letter to the Vice-Chancellor regarding shortage of Personal Protective Equipment.
"It has been brought to our notice from residents of various departments that residents attending patients suspected to have coronavirus infection are working without PPE gears. This threatens exposure and community spread of COVID-19," the letter reads.
"We residents are scared in such working conditions, causing emotional and psychological stress. We request you to urgently provide us with PPE gears for proper functioning without delay," the letter added.
Commenting on this, KGMU public relations officer (PRO) Dr.Sudhir, said there was no shortage of masks and PPE. “There is no shortage of mask and PPE and according to the Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines, we are providing every necessary safety measure to those who are in direct contact of suspected coronavirus patients. Until and unless a patient has any travelling history abroad, we don’t treat him as a suspected coronavirus patient,” he said.
When questioned why every suspected patient as well as nurses and doctors are not being given PPE, Sudhir said it was not possible to provide everyone the same kit without proper screening.
Another doctor at KGMU told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity that all doctors who are taking care of suspected coronavirus patients would have to take all precautions as patients are considered positive till their negative reports come in.
"Three doctors at a time should be at the isolation ward and after seven days they would be sent to quarantine for 14 days and then other doctors will come in isolation wards. Now you can imagine the need of PPE," he added.
It may be noted KGMU is the lone medical college in Lucknow that is dealing with suspected coronavirus patients in large numbers. The situation is worrisome, as
Uttar Pradesh has reported 24 positive cases, including one foreigner so far.