New Delhi: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has decided to suspend routine OPD (outpatient department) admissions with immediate effect, marking the second such suspension amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The hospital said the decision was taken to optimise the inpatient beds available at the facility, also citing a recent surge in Covid cases. The order, announced in a circular issued by AIIMS medical superintendent Dr D.K. Sharma Tuesday, will be reviewed after two weeks.
“…To optimise usage of available inpatient beds for hospitalisation of seriously ill emergency/semi-emergency patients, it has been decided to temporarily stop routine OPD admissions to general wards as well as private wards in AIIMS Hospital …for a period of two weeks,” states the circular, a copy of which is with ThePrint.
The order doesn’t apply to emergency patients who may require inpatient hospitalisation in general wards or those who have been advised treatment in private wards owing to emergency/semi-emergency conditions, Dr Sharma said in the circular. EHS (Employees Health Scheme) patients will also continue to be hospitalised “as is clinically warranted”.
The decision, Sharma said, was taken after a detailed discussion and with the approval of the AIIMS director.
The order comes amid a surge in Delhi’s Covid-19 case tally. The capital registered 2,312 coronavirus cases and 18 deaths Tuesday, taking its total to 1,77,060 cases and 4,462 deaths. Delhi recorded 1,358 cases Monday, 2,024 cases Sunday and 1,954 cases Saturday.
Speaking to ThePrint about the OPD suspension, Dr Sharma said: “The decision was taken because of the increased number of Covid-19 patients as well as because of increased number of emergency patients needing hospitalisation.”
Of the 265 beds currently reserved for Covid patients at AIIMS, 84 were vacant as of Wednesday morning, the Delhi Corona app showed. Among the 50 ICU beds with ventilators, four were vacant.
Second suspension since Covid began
The AIIMS OPD was earlier closed for three months from 24 March-24 June. This, despite the fact that AIIMS was only admitting Covid-19 patients at its Jhajjar campus and at the Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Centre, which is a short distance away from the main premises that house the OPD facility.
Senior AIIMS doctors had told ThePrint then that the decision was taken to prevent needless exposure of doctors and hospital staff at a time when patients were anyway finding it hard to visit hospitals on account of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Even after OPD services restarted, attendance remained thin as AIIMS made online or IVR registration of appointments mandatory before patients arrived for consultation.
This provision caused trouble for many patients. One such case that came to light on social media pertained to a young father named Yasin from Bihar, who had to rush his four-month-old son Husnain to AIIMS when he started turning blue immediately after the family returned to Delhi around 2 am on 17 August.
The baby, ThePrint has learnt, was admitted for about 12 hours and the family asked to come back in the OPD two days later for a life-saving heart surgery. When the family went back to the OPD, they were allegedly turned away.
“We were given a card and asked to come to the OPD in two days but when we went back, we could not even get past the guard. We were asked to go and get an appointment online first. When we showed the card, the guard said that they are not taking any new patients. But that is not what the doctor in the emergency had said,” said Akram, Yasin’s brother.
After much running around, the family is now approaching a private hospital for free treatment following the intervention of lawyer Ashok Aggarwal, who had tweeted about Yasin’s case and made arrangements for the baby’s treatment at the private facility.
4 month child having heart problem was taken to AIIMS Emergency on Monday this week. After treating child for few hours, parents were told to bring child in OPD on Wednesday. When they went to OPD today, they were told no new patient is registered and thus refused treatment. pic.twitter.com/9WX1j8dCRN
— Ashok Agarwal (@socialjurist) August 19, 2020
Dr D.K. Sharma declined to comment on Husnain’s case and referred it to AIIMS spokesperson Dr Aarti Vij. ThePrint has approached Dr Vij through WhatsApp and calls, and this report will be updated when/if a response is received.
The case of baby Husnain could have been just another story from the crowded OPD of India’s premier medical institute. Only, the OPD at AIIMS Delhi was not crowded in the days since it reopened in June.
According to doctors, most patients do not show up even after booking an appointment online. “If 60 patients book online, only 10-15 turn up. There are transportation issues, most of our patients are from outstation and they finally cannot make it. The faculty has flagged this issue time and again but the administration has refused to open up the OPD appointments,” said Dr Anoop Saraya, professor of gastroenterology at AIIMS.
“The logical thing to do at this point is to just stop the online system and register whoever turns up at the OPD like it used to be earlier.”
There have been several cases in the courts that allege AIIMS has not been treating critical patients during the pandemic. Last month, AIIMS was questioned by the Delhi High Court over the status of critical surgeries at the facilities. While AIIMS reportedly admitted that certain surgeries were not taking place because of the Covid-19 pandemic, an unnamed official told The New Indian Express that critical procedures were never stopped.