COVID-19: Bihar's healthcare workers threaten to leave, ask to be quarantined in absence of PPEs

Doctors in some cases, used polythenes, raincoats to protect themselves

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Friday 27 March 2020
83 junior doctors of the Patna-based Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) demanded they be sent to quarantine Photo:

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers in Bihar’s government-run hospitals are examining those suspected of having novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infections without any basic safety gear.

The lack of basic personal protective equipment (PPE) has led to healthcare workers threatening to resign and increased requests that they be sent to quarantine, as a precautionary measure.

“We are given HIV kits instead of PPEs. It is suicide that we have chosen to do this to ourselves. Once we are infected, we could be infecting others too,” said a resident doctor at Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), Bihar’s largest medical college and healthcare centre, in a Facebook post.

“There are no facilities, equipment and no sanitisers, just empty bottles,” the doctor added.

The doctor also accused the superintendent of PMCH for showing little concern to the needs of healthcare workers.

“The medical superintendent is more worried about his lunch with the Bihar chief minister than thinking about us. We are being threatened with FIRs if we refuse to perform our duties,” the doctor said.

Questions were raised over the preparedness of government-run hospitals in Bihar, soon after her post went viral on social media.

The doctor later deleted the post and sought to downplay her earlier comments in another post.

“I hope my post will be taken in a positive way to uplift the management of PMCH. Hoping for quick action regarding all basic things required in management. After all, this is the best college of Bihar where people come with hope to survive,” the post said.

There are several instances of poor protection for doctors across the state who are examining suspected cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

This is further compounded by the arrival of thousands of migrants, who reached the state from several parts of the country and abroad.

A medical team at Rosera in Samastipur district was forced to wear raincoats in the absence of safety kits, while they examined migrant workers who had reached the area in the past four days.

A doctor, as a part of a medical team that visited half a dozen villages under Shivaji Nagar block in the district, said the team was forced to conduct examinations without N95 masks, gloves and other protective gear.

They covered their faces with ordinary masks, bought from the market with their own money, according to the doctor.

Doctors at the Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) in Darbhanga district threatened to boycott work and resign if PPEs were not provided to them.

Polythene bags were used by them to cover their hands in the absence of gloves, said Sunil Kumar Singh, another doctor.

The hospital superintendent in Bhagalpur district’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital asked doctors to work without PPEs, a move that puts healthcare workers at great personal risk.

“Doctors need not wear N95 masks and PPEs for working in emergency wards. Doctors can work with normal masks and gloves,” said an official letter sent to the doctors by the superintendent.

The superintendent also warned doctors that any negligence from duty would be reported to the principal secretary of the health department in Patna.

This decision was taken by the superintendent after a video conference call with top officers of the health department, according to a hospital employee.

“There are no safety kits for us, but we were forced to examine suspected novel coronavirus cases,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisal.

Another doctor said working without PPEs and not taking safety precautions was against the guidelines set by the Indian Council of Medical Research for doctors and other healthcare workers.

The superintendent of the hospital refused to comment on the issue.

83 junior doctors of the Patna-based Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) demanded they be sent to quarantine, in a letter sent to the hospital superintendent.

“Who will be held responsible if junior doctors treating suspected patients get infected themselves? We have requested the hospital to keep us away from treatment of suspected cases,” said Ranvijay Bharti, the vice-president of the junior doctors’ association.

The hospital’s nurses had gheraoed the hospital superintendent on March 27, 2020 and demanded they be given safety kits and N95 mask.

The nurses also expressed unhappiness over a threat given to one of the employees who posted a video on social media on March 26, requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Nitish Kumar to provide adequate safety kits.

The state health department had taken a decision that NMCH — the second-largest hospital in the state — would be converted into a special hospital with 100 beds, for the treatment of COVID-19.

Another doctor said that the doctors of NMCH — like PMCH — were given HIV kits.

“We are also human beings, not machines. We may be infected after coming in contact with positive cases during treatment,” the doctor said, on condition of anonymity.

Bihar reported six cases of those infected with the virus till now, according to Pradeep Das, the director of Patna-based Rajendra Memorial Research Institute, where the tests are being conducted.

Of the 404 samples analysed in the state, 398 were found negative, said Sanjay Kumar, the state’s health secretary. Approximately 1,228 were under observation in the state, he added.

Testing facilities had begun at Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Patna, with similar facilities at PMCH and DMCH soon, according to health officials.

Bihar's poor healthcare infrastructure has become a cause for concern for medical professionals.

The state is short of 131 primary health centres, 1,210 sub-centres and 289 community health centres.

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