Barabanki/Sitapur: Uttar Pradesh districts adjoining the capital city of Lucknow are battling a double crisis — an already stretched medical infrastructure pushed beyond limits amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the additional burden of patients streaming in from Lucknow after being unable to find hospital beds in the city. However, district hospitals too are turning them away, either due to unavailability of beds or because hospitals are saving them for local residents.
ThePrint visited two such districts, Sitapur and Barabanki, on Sunday and Monday respectively, to see the ground situation in these districts. What we saw were police guarding oxygen plants, hospitals turning away new admissions owing to lack of beds and exhausted medical staff catching naps at the hospital reception in between shifts that last days.
Cases in UP, much like the rest of the country, have been on an upward trend. According to the state health bulletin, the number of active cases reached 2,23,544 Tuesday, with 163 deaths in 24 hours. Lucknow had 52,376 active cases Tuesday.
In Sitapur and Barabanki, 219 and 347 fresh Covid cases respectively, were reported in the past 24 hours Tuesday. These numbers could be higher. Hospitals, where doctors are already working round the clock, are sometimes intentionally not testing staff since they can’t afford to give them leave.
But it isn’t just healthcare workers under duress; the disease has affected many district administration personnel too. Officials told ThePrint they were “demoralised” after many of their own tested positive for the virus. There have also been cases of Covid deaths.
Yet, what is keeping officials the busiest now is the panchayat polls — a decision, officials say, they have little choice in.
No vacancy for Lucknow patients
Thirty-year-old Rahul Khare drove his 62-year-old uncle and 31-year-old cousin, both Covid positive, from Lucknow to Barabanki on 19 April. ThePrint spotted him at the district’s Mayo hospital, where he was explaining the patients’ condition to the staff.
While his uncle’s oxygen level dropped to 91, his cousin’s oxygen level was even more critical at 85. The staff denied admission to both patients, saying there were no beds for Level 2 patients (those who need oxygen support). Level 1 patients are those who have been advised home isolation, while Level 3 Covid patients are those who need ventilator support.
“I had tried every hospital in Lucknow. There is no bed available. I found out that many patients from Lucknow are moving to nearby districts, where hospital beds are available, and so brought them here,” Khare told ThePrint.
The hospital had also put up notices informing patients and their families that admissions were closed for Covid patients, owing to the non-availability of ICU beds.
A hospital healthcare worker was fast asleep under one such poster. When he woke up, he told ThePrint that he had not been able to take a break for three days. Such was his exhaustion that he said he had lost all sensation in his legs.
A few metres away from him, a Covid patient sat with his family and an oxygen cylinder that they had managed to get. They were hoping to get a hospital bed.
Every 10-15 minutes, more patients kept arriving from Lucknow, desperately looking for oxygen support and hospital beds, only to be told that Level 1 patients were being admitted since the isolation ward was the only space available.
ThePrint met senior officials of Mayo hospital, but they refused to comment on the matter.
Assistant Chief Medical Officer, Sitapur, P.K. Singh, however, told ThePrint that hospitals in the district were turning away patients from Lucknow as they wanted to save beds for local patients. At Sitapur’s Khairabad hospital, 15 Level 2 patients were admitted Tuesday, while the number was 28 at the district hospital there, he added.
‘Give Z security to Oxygen plants’
A doctor from Barabanki’s Hind hospital, whom ThePrint contacted over phone, broke down while talking about the severe shortage of medical facilities at the hospital.
“The government will have to provide Z category security — given to people who are perceived to be living under high risk — to oxygen plants [owing to the desperate demand]. A person whose loved one is dying because his oxygen level has gone down to 50, who is in desperate need of oxygen, will be moved to attack doctors and oxygen plants, in a bid to save him,” said the doctor, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
At Hind hospital, the district administration employed a Nayab Tehsildar at the oxygen plant to guard supplies. An official of the level of a sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) was also attached to the hospital to keep a tab on the situation. Both the hospital and the oxygen plant are being monitored 24 hours by the administration.
“We are deliberately not testing the medical staff for Covid, because if we do, probably 40 per cent of them will be found to be Covid positive,” said the Hind hospital doctor. “The brother-in-law of the person who was sending daily reports to the CMO Health, is admitted at the ICU. This hospital was supposed to treat Level 2 patients. But now, we are functioning as a Level 3 facility. All district hospitals are functioning as Level 3 facilities. Thirty per cent of the patients are getting pneumonia in six to eight hours; during the first wave of Covid, this period would be about six to eight days,” the doctor added.
Hind hospital, with a capacity to admit 340 patients, has only 140 beds with oxygen support. But according to district health data accessed by ThePrint, the hospital had only two more hours of oxygen supply for its patients Monday.
At Mayo, the number of beds with oxygen support is supposed to be 260, but as of Monday, the hospital didn’t have any oxygen supply left, according to the same data.
The situation is equally bad at the Sitapur district hospital. A district health official, tasked with monitoring oxygen supply for patients at the hospital, told ThePrint, “Each Covid patient has an attendant, who minds the oxygen cylinder in fear that if left unattended, someone might steal it. There is utter chaos here. We had to seek police assistance to manage the Covid ward, but even then, no one is really listening to the administration.”
More testing, more patients
Meanwhile, there were long queues at every testing centre in the districts ThePrint visited.
When the pandemic first started last year, district administrations had struggled to get people tested for Covid. With more awareness now, the situation has flipped.
ThePrint visited two testing centres in Sitapur and Barabanki. Around 5 pm, there were more than 50 people waiting at the Sitapur centre. The number was more than 60 at Barabanki. Most people interviewed by ThePrint complained of fever, cough and body ache.
Despite the good turnout of people, the districts have been limiting the number of samples collected daily so as to not overburden testing labs in Lucknow. According to the assistant district health officer, Sitapur, P.K. Singh: “Districts are only allowed to send 1,000 RT-PCR samples daily. Earlier, the number was limited to 800. However, districts that are the worst affected are sending more samples.”
Barabanki is more burdened than Sitapur, as the average number of samples being sent daily include 971 RT-PCR samples, 1,263 antigen samples and 5 DH (TrueNat) samples — all different tests to check for Covid. Meanwhile, Sitapur is collecting 1,000 RT PCR and 1,000 antigen samples everyday.
The two districts have also set up Covid help desks at bus stops and railway stations, to educate people about the virus and screen passengers for infections. However, ThePrint found them sparsely manned. Late Sunday night, when five people from Sitapur arrived at one such bus stop, there was no one to screen or test them for Covid. The group was returning from the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand, an event that has since turned into a Covid super spreader.
The district administrations have been firefighting their own troubles.
Speaking to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity, a top official in the Barabanki district administration said, “We are also demoralised right now. A person who used to sit next to me succumbed to Covid last week. We have lost five block-level officials to the disease in the last 15 days. Many BDOs and lekhpals have also tested positive for Covid. At present, 25 per cent of our staff is Covid positive. In my own family, three people have been infected. Another senior official’s pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter have been infected.”
The UP panchayat polls are adding to their distress, drawing attention away from the Covid crisis.
“We have panchayat polls also. We have to ensure that this is also our priority,” said the officer.
When the Print asked authorities about the whether the polls were interfering with Covid crisis management, a district official who asked not to be named, said, “We do not decide the timings of the polls, we are only responsible for its execution.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)