On April 11, there was a tense verbal duel at Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital, where a large number of Coronavirus cases are being treated, after a general category patient could not be allowed emergency admission because of overcrowding.
A doctor accompanying the patient said two other hospitals had already expressed their inability to admit him on the same ground.
The incident aptly sums up a parallel health crisis that has begun unfolding at some hospitals in the city. With doctors, both at private and government hospitals, neck-deep in treating COVID-19 cases, there’s little relief for thousands of general patients. Hospitals have either curtailed or shut routine health services in order to keep beds reserved for COVID-19 patients.
“There is a possibility that a general bed was not available that time,” said a senior LNJP Hospital doctor who did not want to be named. The hospital has 2,000 beds, half of which are dedicated to Coronavirus patients.
In all, there are 1,291 hospitals and nursing homes, including 1,175 private, across Delhi.
They together have 57,709 beds. Over the past weeks, the Delhi government has dedicated six public hospitals for COVID-19. Three private hospitals also have COVID-only beds.
On April 4, the Delhi government shut Out Patients’ Departments (OPDs) at LNJP Hospital and GB Pant Hospital, days after earmarking them for Coronavirus treatment.
The OPD at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is shut too and the one at Safdarjung Hospital functions with staggered timings. After two Mohalla Clinic doctors from northeast Delhi tested positive, at least 100 of these primary health care centres have also been shut adding to the woes of people seeking medical assistance.
Also, half of the private practitioners across the city have also stopped seeing patients for now. The positive cases in Delhi crossed 1,600 on Wednesday with 38 deaths.
LEFT IN THE LURCH
General patients undergoing treatment at many hospitals have been left in the lurch. Ishfaq Ahmad, from Saharanpur in West UP, had many cycles of radiation therapy left when the Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI) was shut after 22 health care workers, including doctors and nurses, tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.
“We tried to go to a private hospital. But doctors there insisted that we should continue therapies at the same hospital. I do not want his cancer to be back,” said Ahmad’s wife, Bilkis. Ahmad had undergone a surgery in his mouth a month ago.
The closed OPD at AIIMS has multiplied problems of thousands of people from various parts of the country, who are stranded in shelter homes and on footpaths outside waiting for the global pandemic to abate so they can be treated for their non-COVID ailments.
Most of these people accompany patients who have been referred for special treatment to AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital from their home towns. For some of them, like Ramprakash from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, the wait is endless.
“My 12-year-old son had developed some symptoms of an ailment in his stomach. Doctors back home asked me to come to AIIMS. I had an appointment with a doctor on April 4, but that didn’t happen because of the lockdown. I don’t know how to go back or how long to wait here with my brother-inlaw and the other kid. It looks endless,” he said.
NO DIGITAL HELP?
Many hospitals in Delhi have tele-medicine consultations after the Centre released guidelines but the response has been slow, say doctors. At the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, for example, in a 12-hour tele-consultation session, the hospital gets not more than three calls.
On another service where the hospital gives prescriptions, only 30 calls are received a day. Before being shut last month, the OPD of the hospital used to report 1,200 patients each day.
WHAT DOCS SAY
The AIIMS administration said patients who have appointments are being taken care of through tele-consultation.
“COVID-19 patients having mild symptoms are kept in Jhajjar AIIMS, while patients needing more medical observations are admitted in the AIIMS trauma center in Delhi which is now fully converted into a COVID-19 hospital. The total capacity of Delhi AIIMS is 200 beds and Jhajjar AIIMS has 400 beds. Both these hospitals have the capacity to enhance beds,” said Prof Dr DK Sharma, AIIMS Delhi Medical Superintendent.
While AIIMS has 3,000 beds for non-COVID patients, LNJP Hospital has 2,000, Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital Mangolpuri has 300 beds.
On April 9, the Delhi government removed GB Pant Hospital from its list of designated COVID-19 hospitals due to difficulties faced by general patients. The state’s health department directed LNJP Hospital to create additional 500-bed capacity by utilising OPD spaces and newly constructed block of Maulana Azad Institute of Dental Sciences, in lieu of beds proposed to be designated in GB Pant Hospital.
“In view of preventing infections, we have segregated COVID-19 patients at our Sultanpuri unit to conduct uninterrupted OPD and emergency services,” said Dr PS Nayyar, Medical Superintendent of Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital.