Medical facilities in West Bengal have turned into coronavirus contamination risk zones, putting doctors and nurses among others at risk and severely affecting the state’s health care facilities.
The disturbing trend also puts a question mark on the state government’s COVID-19 containment strategy as in at least two cases it appeared that hospital authorities ignored the apparent symptoms of possible coronavirus infection in patients.
State not following ICMR norms, say doctors
The West Bengal government is already in the dock over allegations of suppression of facts and not providing enough protective gears to doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare staff, who are in the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.
Last week, the Calcutta high court directed the government to file a report on steps taken by to handle the coronavirus crisis in the state, by April 16. The court gave the directive after hearing a PIL through videoconference wherein the petitioner Fuad Halim, a CPI(M) leader alleged that tests of suspected coronavirus-infected people were not being done as per guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
He also claimed that all data regarding the tests done and number of people afflicted with the dreaded virus was not being shared by the government.
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“That all is not well in the state’s dealing of the pandemic is evident from the way the hospitals are emerging as potential hotspots,” said a government doctor under the condition of anonymity.
So far, at least nine healthcare institutions in the state, including four premier medical colleges and hospitals have faced complete or partial closure for disinfection after patients admitted in these facilities with other complications later tested positive for COVID-19. Over 150 healthcare workers of these institutions have been quarantined.
What raised a stink
In the past two days, four medical facilities in Kolkata were hit by the corona-scare, prompting the health department to issue an SOS for government hospitals to prevent mixing of suspected COVID-19 patients with others. Similar guidelines were also issued for the treatment of pregnant women.
Male and female medicine wards of the Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata (popularly known as Calcutta Medical College) were closed down on Tuesday (April 14) and three junior doctors were quarantined after a 62-year-old woman died on Monday night in the isolation ward of the hospital.
The incident evoked strong resentment among junior doctors, who in private claimed that the lady was admitted in the female medical ward by some doctors who ignored the advice of their colleagues who had examined her in the emergency ward after she was brought there for admission. Junior doctors claimed to have found clinical signs of possible coronavirus infection in the lady, a renal patient, during dialysis.
“When she was brought to the emergency ward of our hospital on Sunday, we found symptoms of COVID-19 in her and wore PPE suits while treating her. We had recommended that she be admitted to the isolation ward. But the hospital authority decided against it,” alleged a junior doctor.
The hospital authority, however, did not make any comment on the issue.
Vicious chain of contact
The lady was referred to the medical hospital from Charnock Hospital, a 100-bed private facility off VIP Road in Kolkata after it was closed down for at least seven days for a thorough sanitisation drive after another patient who had availed the dialysis facility there, tested positive for coronavirus later. Five other patients, who underwent dialysis at that time in the hospital, and a floor manager too tested positive.
The patient was brought to the private hospital for dialysis from SS Chatterjee Heart Centre in Park Circus, where he died on Sunday (April 12). Both these private medical facilities were temporarily closed for sanitisation after the death.
Charnock Hospital sent around 40 healthcare workers into isolation while the nursing home in Park Circus quarantined eight. Among the swab samples of three doctors sent for testing, one was found positive.
Patients (including the lady who died in the medical college hospital) of these two centres were shifted to other medical facilities in the city.
On Monday (April 13), the Eden Building of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital that houses the gynaecological department, was also shut as a woman tested positive after she delivered a healthy baby.
On Tuesday (April 14) functioning of the Vidyasagar State General Hospital at Behala in Kolkata was affected after a patient admitted there tested positive. This led to quarantining of five health workers, including three doctors of the hospital.
Sources said the patient having respiratory problems was first taken to the MR Bangur Hospital, designated for COVID-19 treatment a week ago. But as the patient had no foreign travel history, the Bangur hospital referred the case to the Behala hospital, only to be sent back after the patient’s condition deteriorated.
Health department tightens reins
Doctors are of the view that hospitals need to be more alert and vigilant to avoid getting exposed to Covid-19.
The health department’s standard operating procedure issued on April 14 now makes it mandatory for at least one senior medical officer physician (SMOP) or on-call faculty (medicine) to be present at the emergency ward round the clock (on eight hours shift basis). It is mandatory that the medical officer wears PPE kit for primary screening of suspected COVID-19 patients.
The guidelines, among others, also stated that for admission of patients in the medicine ward, the emergency medical officer should consult SMOP or on-call faculty (medicine) so as to exclude the suspected COVID-19 patient.
The department also issued separate two-page guidelines for “providing care” to pregnant women.
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The latest setbacks in the hospitals came close on the heels of similar lockdowns being witnessed earlier in RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, NRS Medical College and Hospital, the North Bengal Medical College Hospital, Howrah district hospitals among others.
As per the latest government’s figure, the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state as on April 15 is 213. One reason for the relatively low figure of positive cases could be because so far only 3,081 samples were tested for COVID-19 in the state with a population of over 9 crore.