Gandhi government hospital, which lies at the heart of Hyderabad, is home to not just COVID-19 patients, but also simmering protests. For the third day in a row, junior doctors at the exclusive COVID-19 hospital for the entire Telangana refused to attend duties and sat on strike.
The trigger was an attack on doctors in the ICU ward by a relative of a deceased patient Tuesday evening. A COVID-19 patient, aged above 50, had left his bed for the washroom removing the oxygen mask, despite instructions from the doctors not to do so. The patient collapsed soon after and died, despite the on-duty doctors trying to revive him. Angry attenders, who were in the same block, physically injured the doctors blaming them for the death.
#Telangana Junior doctors protesting outside Gandhi hospital in #Hyderabad. Their demands include deploying paramilitary forces at the hospital for better protection, immediate recruitments, decentralisation of covid cases, protective kits to all healthcare workers. pic.twitter.com/0eB7vyIMBt— Rahul Devulapalli (@rahulscribe) June 10, 2020
Upset with the repeated physical attacks on them, around 250 junior doctors and house surgeons protested inside the sprawling campus and spilled onto the streets outside the hospital raising slogans. Though doctors' security remains a concern and is one of the major demands of the junior doctors, their major fight is against the existing policy of the Telangana government of allocating just one hospital to treat all COVID patients from the state.
The Telangana Junior Doctors' Association has put forward a set of five demands--improved security at the hospital for the protection of doctors, immediate recruitment of manpower including inducting more doctors, better quality protective gear for healthcare workers, decentralisation of COVID-19 cases to hospitals and health care centres across the state and appointing a junior doctor in the advisory committee of the health ministry.
Currently, there are around 450 COVID-19 patients inside Gandhi hospital and they are being attended to by senior resident doctors.
Though health minister E. Rajender drove down to meet the protestors, the junior doctors refused to budge until Telangana changed its policy to take the burden off Gandhi hospital. “Decentralisation is the only solution,” said Dr Lohith Reddy, a junior doctor at Gandhi hospital. “Since one month, we have been giving representations to the government. But now, we are forced to protest.”
He, like his colleagues, has been pointing out that all the COVID-19 cases need not be brought down to Gandhi hospital. “We are overburdened as a lot of patients are coming to Gandhi (hospital) and there is a shortage of manpower, including class 4 employees.”
The Telangana government turned the Gandhi super speciality government hospital into an exclusive COVID-19 hospital while shutting down all departments for non-COVID patients. The state has also ensured that all the patients, once tested positive for COVID19 anywhere in the state, have to be treated only at Gandhi.
According to the junior doctors, the doctor-to-patient ratio in the ICU is also high as few doctors are available at any given point of time because of the rotation system to quarantine one batch of doctors.
Apart from sharing their plight of working long hours, they also criticised certain rules of the state such as not testing the doctors who are performing COVID-19 duties. A total of more than 150 health care workers, including doctors from Gandhi hospital, tested positive in the state.
Another protesting doctor Kiran said, “Is the health infrastructure in Telangana so bad that only Gandhi has to treat all the COVID-19 patients? The lower middle class who used to come to Gandhi for consultation and treatment are denied their basic health rights. Now, they will have to go to private hospitals because of which they will be in debts.”
Clearly, the junior doctors are also not happy with the state of affairs at the hospital as they share that despite complaining multiple times, caretakers or relatives of the positive patients are entering COVID-19 wards putting themselves at risks of contracting the virus. They say that with mounting cases and increasing deaths, it will be wise to allow other hospitals to treat COVID patients. Not surprisingly, they also question the low testing in the state.
The postgraduates are also upset for another reason. They argue that because of COVID-19 duty, they are not getting the required on-field experience. “My specialisation is gynaecology,” said Dr Supreetha K., a PG student. “Since three months, I have been seeing (only) COVID-19 patients. Which means I have lost three months of experience in treating patients related to my specialisation. What will I learn this way and how will this experience help me in future? Even PGs from other departments are getting affected because of the current situation.”
For now, the doctors and government do not seem to be in a mood to change their stand.