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As more doctors & nurses get Covid, Delhi hospitals cut OPD timings, focus on emergency cases

Hundreds of healthcare workers in Delhi have tested positive in the past week, forcing hospitals to deal with staff shortage. Doctors attribute the number of cases to high exposure.

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New Delhi: With hundreds of healthcare workers testing positive for Covid-19, major hospitals across Delhi are shifting focus to emergency services and reducing outpatient department (OPD) timings and registrations to deal with the resulting staff shortage, ThePrint has learnt. 

At the central government-run Safdarjung Hospital, according to the minutes of a meeting held on 5 January with the heads of all departments, OPD timings have been reduced to two hours (8:30 am-10:30 am) on weekdays and 1.5 hours on weekends. 

Doctors said that this is being done to reduce their exposure to patients who may be Covid-positive.

The minutes of the meeting, accessed by ThePrint, also say, “As the demand for junior residents is present for Covid duties, seek an approval for 302 non-PG junior residents against the vacant PG first year seats with the ministry.”  

The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr S.V. Arya, was unavailable for comment.  

At Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, the focus is on the safety of doctors and catering to emergency patients, medical superintendent Dr Nandini Duggal told ThePrint. She said, “We have created a separate ward for Covid-positive doctors so that they have the best of facilities. Since the quarantine period for doctors has been reduced to seven days, we are not witnessing any shortage in staff. The patient in-flow numbers haven’t increased as of now.”

However, she added that hospitals are waiting for formal instructions from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare regarding changes in OPD timings. 

A doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that “because a large number of doctors have tested positive at our hospital, the timing of the OPD has been reduced and the focus has been shifted to emergency patients.”

“As for shifts, as and when a doctor tests positive in any department, the rosters are made in such a way that there are enough doctors available. The number of working hours for those on shift increases,” added the doctor.

Also read: Doctors on SC’s NEET-PG quota verdict: ‘Thankful, but wish it had come two months earlier’

Hundreds of healthcare workers test positive

At AIIMS alone, more than 100 doctors and 150 nurses have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week. Suvrankar Datta, a junior resident at the hospital who tested positive on 1 January, said, “More than 100 doctors at AIIMS are currently in isolation. Since there is no mechanism to check which patients have Covid, we are exposed to a large number of sick patients. However, our symptoms are mild.”

A nurse at AIIMS said, “We have a strength of 5,000 nurses and it would be safe to say that over 150 nurses have tested positive. Since we deal with all the emergency and OPD patients, our exposure is the highest.”

At Safdarjung Hospital, too, around 60 doctors and seven nurses have tested positive. Manish Nigam, president of the hospital’s Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA), said, “About 60-70 healthcare workers are currently in isolation and the numbers are increasing as more of us are getting ourselves tested.”

Seven doctors have tested positive so far at the Kasturba Gandhi Hospital in central Delhi, said RDA president Dr Sunil Prasad. He told ThePrint, “ We had not witnessed cases like other big hospitals so far, but within the last two-three days we have had seven doctors testing positive.” 

At RML Hospital, 50 doctors and 11 nurses have tested positive according to RDA president Manish Jangra. He said, “We are anyway short a third of our staff due to delayed NEET PG counselling. Doctors testing positive is a big blow to our already poor strength. This will burden us further.”

RDA doctors at Hindu Rao Hospital said about 20 healthcare workers had tested positive, while 60 healthcare workers at Maulana Azad Medical College have tested positive according to doctors there. 

Also read: Delhi could have 40,000-1 lakh Covid cases daily in few weeks, disaster management meeting told

Causes of spread

Most doctors claim that as the number of cases in the city goes up, their risk of exposure has increased manifold. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a resident doctor at Maulana Azad Medical College said, “Doctors not only live normal lives as part of society, but also meet hundreds of patients every day. With no in-patient testing, we have no idea how many of our patients are Covid-positive. As long as people don’t follow Covid hygiene rules diligently, there is no scope for protection of doctors.”

During the second wave of the pandemic in 2021, several private hospitals had made it compulsory for all patients to get a negative Covid test before consulting. However, this is not feasible at government hospitals, said Dr Datta of AIIMS. 

He said, “Covid tests are not free and the results take time. Hospitals have limited testing kits. Our volume of patients is also very high, so setting up an in-patient testing facility is impossible. It would be a logistically impossible feat to achieve.”

When asked whether the massive protests by doctors at the end of December 2021 could have contributed to the spread of Covid among them, Datta said, “It would be premature to say that the protests led to a Covid spread. I was in charge of the movement’s online campaign and did not attend the rallies. Despite this, I tested positive. In order to come to this conclusion, we would have to know the total number of doctors who attended the protest and the total number out of those who have tested positive.”

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: Week since Molnupiravir was approved for Covid use, few doctors prescribing it, want to wait


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