'Cops haven't understood essential services': Doctors in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad tell tales of harassment

New Delhi: The first two days of State-announced lock downs and curfews in Delhi resulted in a number of health workers in the National Capital being harassed by landlords or in some cases even being beaten up by the police.

Over two days — 23 and 24 March — there were a series of posts on social media by doctors threatened with evictions by landlords amid fear of coronavirus fears. Companies running home-based, diagnostic and healthcare services also shared their experiences where paramedics were manhandled by policemen despite their work being deemed essential services. Here are some examples:

Doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi spoke of at least two such cases where their staff were threatened by their landlords. The Resident Doctors Association have alleged that people were questioned about their entry into their societies because they are in touch with suspect COVID-19 patients.

A junior doctor had returned from Japan on Monday and was not allowed inside her house by her landlord. Despite having cleared the thermal scanning at the airport, she was told to leave, as the landlord feared she might be carrying coronavirus "into the house". Her colleagues said that she had to take a flight out of Delhi for her hometown Kerala on Monday night as states across India clamped down on intra-state travel.  In another incident on Monday, a nursing officer was also told to leave her home. She had to call the police to intervene.

"This is fear," said the AIIMS Resident Doctors Association president Dr Adarsh Pratap Singh, adding that people were telling doctors that because they treated patients they will bring the virus into their localities. Such incidents were not just reported in Delhi, he said, referring to the near viral social media post from a doctor at MGM Hospital, Warangal, Telangana.

 Cops havent understood essential services: Doctors in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad tell tales of harassment

The post said that many doctors were being evicted from rented accommodations by owners as they feared "doctors staying in their homes will make them more susceptible to the virus". The post further added that one house owner had called a doctor “dirty”, and now many were stranded on the roads.

On Tuesday evening, the Residents Doctors Association at AIIMS wrote to the union health ministry for help against unauthorised evictions and for transport facilities for health workers across the country. Home Minister Amit Shah’s office stepped in, assuring the RDA over phone that such incidents would be stopped.

After his second COVID-19 address to the country on Tuesday (24 March) when Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted citizens to "think about the doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, pathologists", the prime minister on Wednesday warned against any violence towards healthcare workers.

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Representational image. AP

"I appeal to all the citizens, if you notice any incident where professionals, such as doctors and nurses, are ill-treated then you should take an initiative to make such people (those who are ill-treating healthcare professionals) understand that they are wrong. I have told Home Ministry and DGPs to take strict action against those who are not supporting or not co-operating with doctors, nurses and other professionals who are serving us in this critical time," Modi said in a video address.

Even the Delhi Commissioner of Police called them on Monday evening, said Dr Singh, offering prompt police services if any other health workers faced trouble. However, in multiple other cities it was the police that beat up health workers, despite them coming under the category of essential service providers who are exempted under the lockdown.

Six phlebotomists, employed with the diagnostics company DoctorC, were stopped by the police and some were even beaten up in cities including Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, said co-founder Mansi Gandhi. The company delivers diagnostic services at home, especially to chronically ill patients who cannot go to path labs easily.

Speaking on behalf of her staff, who refused to talk to journalists, she said all incidents followed a similar pattern. The men were on their way to patients' homes to conduct tests, carrying their IDs and the medical equipment. They were stopped by policemen at various points (in the three cities) and were questioned.

In Bengaluru, the police turned them back, telling them they weren’t allowed out except for health emergencies. In Hyderabad, one of the three employees got beaten up by the police. In Visakhapatnam, too, a healthcare employee got thrashed by the police, said Gandhi. None of the policemen were willing to hear explanations, or consider the importance of the medical equipment.

Majority of Gandhi’s clients are chronically-ill patients, who need to be especially careful during the pandemic. “If we don’t reach them,” she said, “they’ll have to step out to go to labs.” This is a risky endeavour, as the coronavirus is widely believed to be particularly harmful to the elderly and those with existing health conditions.

Similarly, staffers of the the home health care company, Portea Medical, were slapped by police in Lucknow and Hyderabad, said serial entrepreneur and company promoter K Ganesh. Both staffers were carrying oxygen concentration machines to elderly, home bound patients.

The one in Lucknow, Ganesh said, is a patient above 80 and lives on her own, and the one in Hyderabad is over 70 years. The health workers showed the police their IDs, letters from the company and the medical equipment. Still, in both cities, the police stopped them from going to the patients, fined them and impounded their two-wheeler vehicles.

Both Gandhi and Ganesh pointed out that their employees went home in fear, and the patients were left without the help that they needed.

Portea Medical, said Ganesh, has 4,000 employees in 16 cities, and they made around 1.5 lakh home visits a month. In Hyderabad, the company tried explaining to the police that they made 400 home visits in a day. Yet, the police offered them five passes to operate during the lockdown.

"We need hundreds," said Ganesh. His health workers, he said were already risking their lives to be out during a pandemic, to attend to sick patients. Most of his staff is trained in recognising and safely dealing with infectious diseases, and could be an important work force to find COVID19 cases.

"We’re not blaming anyone," said Ganesh, "but the policemen on the street haven’t understood essential services. They need to err on the side of caution, and not start with hitting people."

On Tuesday evening along with the home ministry's call to the AIIMS RDA, the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan also tweeted how “deeply anguished” he was at reports of doctors and paramedics being ostracised. The Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government too issued orders to the district administration and police to take “strict action” against house owners found to be evicting health workers. So far, however, there is no word on the policemen who are preventing those delivering essential health services from their jobs.

Updated Date: Mar 26, 2020 08:01:16 IST

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