As SC tears into Delhi for drop in COVID-19 testing, poor state of healthcare; demand for hospital beds skyrockets
With COVID-19 cases skyrocketting and the toll soaring across India, healthcare staff and residents of Delhi strongly feel that the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government has barely managed to keep things together by manipulating numbers, as well as, information. A week ago, the toll figures released by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi contradicted with another list released by the Delhi government.
Editor's Note: Delhi has recorded over 45,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,800 deaths since the outbreak. But these are just the numbers it has made available to the public. Hospital records, cremation data and anecdotal evidence suggest that casualties are far higher. This multi-part series examines discrepancies in the official statistics released by the Delhi government thus far.
New Delhi: Despite the steep rise of COVID-19 cases in the National Capital, the number of tests being conducted daily has dipped considerably. Now the Supreme Court has ripped into the state government for low testing and the 'deplorable' condition of the health system in New Delhi.
The government, however, feels that COVID-19 positive cases may surge to 5.5 lakh by the end of July and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that around 80,000 beds would be required by then to handle the situation. This led to another debate on how the health infrastructure as to how the state would arrange 65,000 beds in days to come as the current capacity is nearly 15,000.
Amid all this, a growing feeling among doctors, paramedical staff in the National Capital is that the testing has been decreased for the past few days just to keep numbers low. Several labs and hospitals in Delhi have decreased daily testing and the staff at several labs said that they have been asked to do so.
The Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) had been doing around 500 tests till the end of May, an employee said, had halved the number of per day tests. “We are not testing asymptomatic persons,” said an employee.
Many other doctors said that asymptomatic suspects are not being tested while many of those with little symptoms are advised to take medicine for viral infection and stay indoors.
A vascular surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Dr Ambarish Satwik said cases are increasing and this is a fact known to all. "Recently the testing has gone down. The hospital was told not to conduct COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic patients. How will you know about the community spread if only people with symptoms are tested?" he said. However, the state has allowed the SGR hospital to conduct COVID-19 tests.
A doctor from the same hospital said on condition of anonymity, "Hospitals should test all patients they are admitting, with or without COVID-19 symptoms. Several medics and paramedics have contracted the infection and if we admit patients without proper COVID-19 tests, we are risking our lives."
The move to stop testing asymptomatic patients, a staffer said, was probably made to lower the number of tests so as to decrease soaring COVID-19 figures, but this cannot be a solution for dealing with the pandemic crisis. After the apex court's remarks and the drawing of flak from medics and experts, Delhi will triple its testing by the end of this week. Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal on Sunday to discuss the situation.
What Delhi's COVID-19 graph suggests
Delhi crossed the 3,000 tests per day mark in the first week of May and in the second week, doubled its testing and even touched 9,000 tests per day. But soon after reports of discrepancies in the number of COVID-19 deaths reported came to light, the number of tests per day decreased in the National Capital.
A senior doctor from a state-run hospital, requesting anonymity said, “If you study the testing data, it is quite evident that testing has decreased. I think government was unsettled with the rising corona cases. Now under fire from Supreme Court and intervention of the union government, state will increase the testing.”
As far as number of positive cases are concerned, it gets doubled to over 10,000 during second and third week of May, when the testing was suddenly halved. The sharp rise was seen from 28 May to 4 June when cases increased from around 15,000 to 25,000. This surge also widened the gap between the number of active COVID-19 positive and recovered cases. The recovery rate was 50 percent as there was almost an equal number of positive and recovered cases in the fourth week of May, however the gap widened. Now the National Capital has over 25,000 active and more than 16,000 recovered cases.
Amit Gupta, a Delhi-based health activist said, "There were 8,470 COVID-19 cases in the capital by 14 May and 1.2 lakh tests had been done. From 14 May to 13 June, 1.6 lakh tests were done of which around 30, 500 cases were positive.”
Demand for beds
As the cases soar, several people are yet to get beds in hospitals or have had to shell out exorbitant sums of money. North Delhi resident Suman said she paid around Rs 10 lakh to a private hospital to get a bed for her father. "Arranging the money was a herculean task, but we got the bed immediately," she said.
As per Delhi government’s website, of total 9,940 beds 5,491 were occupied, still getting a bed in private hospitals is a costly affair. Recently a picture of standee with rates of a well-known private hospital was doing round on social media. The charges for bed ranged from Rs 25,000 to 70,000 per day. Later, the hospital clarified that the charges include expenditure on daily tests, food etc.
A senior consultant at Max Super Specialty Hospital in Patparganj, Dr Naresh Dang, said, “The number is on the rise and obviously the health infrastructure will feel the stress. There have been instances where people did not find beds. Even doctors or paramedics who contracted COVID-19 had to struggle for beds.”
A senior doctor at a government hospital, who did not wish to be named, said, “People prefer private hospitals for obvious reasons. But some of private hospitals have packages. Those who cannot afford them are told to leave.”
However, a doctor at a private hospital justifies the high cost, saying, “If the patient is in ICU, you need five to seven PPE kits costing Rs 1,000 each daily. Besides this, tests, ventilators and other facilities require a lot of money. Where will this money come from?”
Now train coaches, private nursing homes are being turned into the isolation wards to cater to the rising numbers. Five hundred rail coaches at Anand Vihar terminal in national capital have been kept reserved for this purpose while talks are on with private nursing homes in this regard.
Dr Satwik said, “Beds could be arranged, but what about the staff? Nurses are most needed in this pandemic. This should be the main concern. Sixty-five thousand additional beds will require significant numbers doctors and para medical staff."
A government official said the private health institution could be asked to provide the health staff in these makeshift centres on the lines of what is happening in Noida. "There is no other option, but to ask private hospitals to provide the staff. Medics and paramedics could not be recruited overnight and more than doctors, nurses are much needed for this job.”
What Delhi's health minister says
Delhi’s health minister Satyender Jain said daily testing in Delhi is far better than in the neighbouring state. "Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are testing 10 times less than Delhi," he claimed and added that as far as beds are concerned, "Efforts are on to increase the capacity. And the government will act to resolve every issue."
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