Safety Ignored at a Delhi COVID Facility: Doctors at Risk Speak Up
‘I prefer not being in shifts in this unhygienic and risky conditions,’ a COVID doctor wrote to the Delhi CM.
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Our COVID-19 warriors – doctors and healthcare workers – risk their lives daily to treat patients infected with the coronavirus. None of us would have the courage to enter COVID-19 hospitals, where the virus load is several times higher, that too without proper PPE kits, N-95 masks, and other safety measures and devices.
With doctors voluntarily taking such huge risks, the least our governments can do is to provide proper safety wearables to all healthcare workers.
The Quint spoke to five doctors who worked at a temporary COVID-19 facility at Delhi's Ram Leela ground. It is under the administration of Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital, run by the Delhi government. These doctors raised serious concerns about the working conditions at the facility, starting from "shortage of sanitisers and N-95 masks, to torn PPE kits, and lack of soaps in the washrooms".
The doctors raised these issues with the administration and even wrote to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, but in vain, it seems.
In May 2021, GTB hospital announced that it is looking to hire over 145 doctors to work at the Ram Leela ground facility on a contract basis for 89 days.
Dr Kritikka, Junior Resident, applied for the post and was selected. However, on 14 May, she decided to quit after working there for just a day.
“I saw several shortcomings at the facility. Soap and sanitisers were not available. Donning and doffing area (for PPE) was in the same corridor. Masks were not up to the standard, nor were the PPE kits. Masks were given in the open, using bare hands. Sanitisation tunnels were non-functional.”Dr Kritikka, Junior Resident
On 15 May, she wrote an email to Delhi CM, mentioning the major concerns of the doctors at the COVID facility. In the email, she said, "I prefer not to attend the shifts in this unhygienic, risky condition.” However, she has not yet received a response from the state government.
'Substandard Medical Equipment'
Dr Prateek Gupta, a Senior Resident doctor, is still working at the facility. He said that despite all efforts made by multiple doctors, the working condition at the facility is still very poor. A Doctors' Duty Room (DDR) is an essential part of every hospital and medical facility, where a doctor can rest for a while during his/her shift.
But the Ram Leela facility does not have one.
“We work 8- to 12-hour shifts. At least those in the night shift need a DDR to rest. We have often raised these issues with the authorities, but nothing has been done about it. Without basic facilities, it’s hard to work in such conditions.”Dr Prateek Gupta, Senior Resident
Dr Gupta pointed out that currently 70 beds are operational at the facility and that his junior doctors had even raised concerns about the medical equipment used to treat patients here.
“Anaesthetists told me that the instruments are below standard. Doctors are tired of raising these issues. Some have stopped, some have resigned. No one took any action.Dr Prateek Gupta, Senior Resident
'Had to Wear Small-Sized PPE to Do My Duty'
After engaging contractual doctors for just over a week, 31 doctors, on 24 May, were disengaged by the GTB hospital, without any explanation.
“Is it fair that corona warriors can be fired any time? We faced exam pressure, then exams were delayed. Suddenly, we were summoned to serve, and then we were dismissed.”Dr Virendra Singh, Junior Resident
Dr Singh is one of the 31 doctors who was disengaged by the hospital. He is 6 feet tall. He said that he had no option but to attend to patients wearing a small-sized PPE kit, as those in his size were not available at the facility.
“Who would I raise my concerns with? My Senior Resident said that if you don’t have a PPE kit of your size, then don’t do the duty. How could I leave without doing my duty? I wore a small kit as there was nothing else.”Dr Virendra Singh, Junior Resident
'No Accommodation on Site, Can We Risk Our Families' Lives?'
In March 2020, Delhi CM Kejriwal had said that all COVID doctors would get food and stay. However, GTB hospital, while hiring doctors on contract for the Ram Leela ground facility, refused to provide them with accommodation.
“From the COVID facility, I used to go home every day. My parents live with me, and they are vulnerable. How can I risk their lives? How can they (GTB Hospital authorities) risk other’s lives?”Dr Siddharth Chauhan, Junior Resident
The doctors said that those who have been disengaged by the hospital have not yet been paid by the Delhi government.
They claim that when Delhi's Health Minister, Satyendra Jain visited the facility in mid May, Dr Gupta, along with other doctors, demanded double shift salaries for those who were working in the night shift. But none of the concerns were addressed.
“The Minister told us not to complain. Just work and serve the people...we can’t be paying you so much. Those who don’t want to work can resign…if somebody is found not working, they may lose their job.”Dr Prateek Gupta, Senior Resident
Considering the unhygienic condition and risk involved while working in this facility, many senior resident doctors resigned, said Dr Gupta, adding that any new facility would certainly have issues initially, but those issues and concerns should be heard and resolved by the administration, and not be discarded.
The Quint wrote to the Delhi government for a response, but we have not heard back from them yet.
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