Terrible conditions of health care

Services are denied to people in dire need

The Corona virus pandemic raging over the past three months has revealed the abysmal condition of our health care system. In the top metros of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and other cities, chronically ill people, pregnant women and Covid affected who are seeking admission in hospitals are being turned away. These people, in dire need of hospitalisation, are then forced to run desperately from one hospital to yet another and to yet another! Several of them have died in the ambulance or at home or in the hospital bed that they finally manage to get.

This phenomenon is reflected in recent reports. In Delhi around 22% of Covid-19 deaths occur within 24 hours of hospital admission, and another 40% within 48 hours of admission. The main reason for this is the delay in admission of the sick.

Patients who need periodic procedures like kidney dialysis, people with emergencies like haemorrhage are being told by private hospitals that there is no medical care for them because they have become Covid hospitals and hospitalisation for all other purposes are unavailable. Thus, many people have died even as their families have tried desperately to hospitalise them.

According to the All India Nurses Association, dozens of patients with non-Covid related diseases are dying because they are being denied access to treatment.

The situation is not very different for those coming with severe Covid symptoms. They too are being turned away for lack of beds. This is happening even to doctors who catch the Covid infection after they have been treating hundreds of patients day and night.

Even in normal times, government hospitals in India are fully stretched. They are burdened with huge number of patients, suffer great shortage of health care staff, and are short of many essential services. In these times of the pandemic, these conditions have become more obvious. Government hospitals are turning away those who are seeking hospitalisation because they simply cannot handle any more patients and they are running out of beds. In Mumbai’s government hospitals’ emergency wards, there are often two Covid patients to a bed. Patients with symptoms are strapped two to a single oxygen tank and are lying on shared stretchers or just lying on the floor.

However, there are others – many private hospitals, who have the beds and yet they refuse to admit patients under one pretext or another. To some they say there are no beds, to others they tell them to get tested and come with a Covid-positive report to be eligible for admission. Testing can take days and very often sick people have been found to be positive after they have died! And this, when the affected person is feverish and laboring to breathe.

Only those with very high “connections” get admitted on request. Others who are in dire need simply cannot get access to any medical attention at all. There are Government hotline numbers, but there are many reports of families of sick people calling these hotlines repeatedly but failing to get any response.

Despite all claims to the contrary by the state and central governments, these are the real conditions that people are facing. The Central and state governments were initially boasting that they had used the Lockdown period to prepare the health infrastructure to take care of the spread of the pandemic. They spoke about how thousands of beds were being organised in hospitals. By end-June, when the number of patients are increasing by nearly 20,000 all over the country, and by 3000-4000 in Delhi alone, it is becoming very clear that there is a great shortage of beds in hospitals.

To divert attention from the miserable conditions facing the people, various governments like in Delhi and Maharashtra, are announcing the establishment of new facilities with 10,000 beds and so on. However, the main issue is the availability of ICU beds with oxygen, respirator, and the presence of health care workers to administer to the sick. When the government is talking about having so many thousand covid beds, it is covering up the lack of ICU and other necessary infrastructure for patients with severe conditions.

If this is the condition in the top metros, it is not difficult to imagine the suffering of people in second and third tier cities, smaller towns and villages across the country. The quarantine centres set up by the state government, to house the migrant workers coming back to their homes, are hardly functional.  This has led to thousands of workers in villages and small towns staying at home and facing the consequences.

There are several other equally serious issues like the great shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care workers, the exorbitant treatment charges at private hospitals and the violation of treatment protocols. All these factors are contributing to what our people have to endure because of the criminal callousness of the Central and state governments in not ensuring proper health care for the people.

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