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Stretched to breaking point, say govt hospital doctors in Delhi, call for better quarantine

Doctors say shortage happened primarily due to delay in the NEET PG 2021 counselling. But crisis was aggravated by the explosion in Covid infections among government doctors.

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New Delhi: Doctors in the national capital’s government hospitals are being stretched to a breaking point as they face a severe manpower crunch amid the raging third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to ThePrint, several doctors said the shortage happened primarily due to the  delay in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) PG 2021 counselling. But the crisis was aggravated by the explosion in Covid infections among a large number of government doctors.

This has severely stretched the remaining doctors at these hospitals, who are struggling to fill in for their sick colleagues while awaiting the new batch of postgraduate trainee doctors.

Most of these doctors are grappling with long working hours either in the Covid ward or in critically important departments — emergency, medicine, chest or respiratory medicine, radiology, microbiology, critical care, pathology, obstetrics and gynaecology, among others. 

According to them, their mental health is in tatters and there is little support from administration. Moreover, the new rules that have removed mandatory quarantine has only increased the risks for their families as well, they said.

“Major workload is on people who cater to the ICU section, such as in the department of anaesthesia followed by the respiratory department. They are forced to do three 24-hour shifts a week despite their upcoming exams in April-May against the usual norm of four 24-hour duties in one month,” said Dr Anuj Aggarwal, General Secretary, Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA), Safdarjung Hospital.

“There was already a manpower shortage due to lack of one batch, which has turned worse as roughly at least 30 per cent of doctors in every department are down with Covid. No matter how high Covid cases are, there are several critical departments that need a substantial amount of workforce to keep them running,” added Aggarwal.

Earlier this month, at least 750 doctors at six major government hospitals were reported to have tested positive for Covid. The infections came as the third wave exploded in the city.

Last week, Delhi reported 28,867 Covid cases — the city’s highest single-day tally so far in the pandemic. However, this number saw a sharp fall, dipping to 20,718 cases two days later Saturday.

Also read: Delhi is conducting Covid tests 3 times the number recommended by ICMR, says Satyendar Jain

‘Need more doctors’

Government hospital doctors in Delhi are finding it difficult to simultaneously handle this increasing workload of Covid while facing a manpower shortage. 

According to them, despite a substantial increase in Covid-19 related medical infrastructure such as beds, ICUs, oxygen availability, the essential manpower availability to make them work remains absent.

“There are doctors in various departments such as critical care who handle ICU or in obstetrics and gynaecology that deal with labour cases which are facing extra stress and pressure. As far as diagnostics like pathology and radiology are concerned, there also workload increases with the surge in Covid,” said Dr Saurabh Sachar, a senior resident at Safdarjung Hospital’s Radiology Department.

“It takes years of training to create a specialist who can handle such a crisis, unlike the physical infrastructure work which can be ramped up in a much shorter time,” Kumar said. “We need more doctors to make the increased infrastructure work… There are branches from where doctors can’t be completely pulled out for Covid duties as work in those departments never shut.”

Also read: Skin rashes not very common among Covid patients, at least in India, Delhi study shows

‘48 hours in one go’

The stress caused by long working hours has had severe repercussions for doctors. 

“There used to be 45 resident doctors in my department. Out of that only 30 are there… of which 10 are positive and the remaining 20 have to balance Covid, emergency as well as other critical department duties,” said Dr Furquan Ahmad, a member of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital’s RDA.

“Many doctors are experiencing mental health issues and have been told to attend a counselling session of at least 30 minutes daily but due to high work hours of 48-72 hours they can’t attend it. This in turn also affects patients’ well-being,” he added.

A similar story is playing out in most other government hospitals.

“The manpower crisis existed even before Covid era but it has been magnified 100-200 times,” said Dr Aasstha Kumari, senior resident doctor, anesthesia, Safdarjung Hospital.

“In every department, there are PG students for three years. Due to counselling delays, we don’t have 1st year PG students who receive the patients and the remaining 2nd- and 3rd-year batch have their exams coming up. Due to severe work stress, many doctors want to take leave or resign on the grounds that our family will catch Covid infections but are not allowed to do so,” she said.

“The last two years have been so stressful for government doctors. Everyone in our department is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. The attitude of administration and authorities is not helping much despite doctors giving everything in their service. (In countries) abroad, there’s a shift of 48 hours in 7 days but here in one go itself, it’s ‘48 hours’,” Kumari added.

In a report published last year, the Indian Medical Association had pointed out that doctors are understaffed and overworked in India, with the country having lost over 200 doctors in the second Covid wave.

What the doctors are seeking

The doctors have asked for at least a cooling off quarantine period for themselves after Covid duties along with accommodation arrangements as they fear that with high infection rate in the current Covid wave, it will further spread to their families.

According to reports, the new guidelines say no quarantine is warranted after Covid duty for healthcare workers or for healthcare workers with Covid exposure.

Doctors are of the opinion that at least five-seven days of quarantine should be provided to them after Covid duty.

“Now, the doctor has to go back to their families after Covid duties as there is no longer a provision of hostel/hotel accommodation or quarantine for them. Many doctors and their families have contracted viruses due to this. We desperately need back quarantine provision to break the chain of Covid infection and to provide us accommodation for doctors working in the Covid ward,” said Aggarwal.

“Earlier, it was 14 days of Covid duty followed by 14 days of quarantine for doctors. Also, If someone came positive then their contact would also be quarantined but this isn’t the case in this wave,” Dr Rakesh Bagdi, president, Federation of All India Medical Association, and senior resident, Lady Hardinge Medical College.

On Sunday, the residents doctors of Lok Nayak Hospital wrote to the administration seeking mandatory quarantine of a week and accommodation facilities.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Achieving COVID-19 vaccine equity is a long road. Overcoming hesitancy is the first step


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