Medical staff more vulnerable to Covid sans protective gear

Safety kits in short supply; docs in emergency units not given N-95 masks

Medical staff more vulnerable to Covid sans protective gear

Sameer Singh

Tribune News Service

Bathinda, March 26

As hospitals and medical workers are working 24 hours to check the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, they are faced with even a bigger challenge is that of their own safety. With shortage of PPEs (personal protective equipment) and N-95 respiratory masks, medical staff at government and private hospitals rue that they are more vulnerable to the deadly virus that has already claimed more than 18,000 lives in the world so far.

A doctor at the emergency unit of the Civil Hospital, Bathinda, requesting anonymity, said, “It is like fighting a war with no weapon in the hands or armour around the body. We can save a patient or two, but with no safety gears, PPEs or N-95 respiratory masks, we may be infected by the virus which I am certain that neither the Health Department nor the Union Government can afford, especially at this juncture.”

Notably, around eight suspected cases of Covid-19 have surfaced till now, but none of them tested postitive.

A doctor and health workers working in the emergency unit and a laboratory assistant of the hospital said there was a shortage of safety gears for the staff.

“Before treatment, suspected patients are first brought to the emergency unit and if doctors or assisting medical staff would not have proper safety gear on then they are most likely to catch the virus. No PPEs or N-95 masks are being provided to doctors and staff at the emergency unit and even staff members, working in the flu corner where symptomatic patients are transferred from the emergency unit, are also not being provided with the safety kits. Only doctors and ancillary staff, dealing with patients in the isolation ward, are being provided the safety kits,” said a doctor at the emergency unit.

Doctors in private hospitals have also rued vulnerability to the deadly virus citing that there are inadequate arrangements to provide safety gears. Notably, one of the suspected COVID-19 patients was admitted at a private hospital. Doctors added that although, OPD services are suspended but at emergency units, any patient arriving for treatment could be a COVID-19 suspected or positive case therefore, its imperative that hospital managements or government provide adequate safety gears to doctors and assisting medical staff.

Dr Vikas Chabbra, vice-president, Indian Medical Association Punjab said, “It’s indeed a genuine concern and has to be dealt on priority but there are people who are opportunists and see crisis as money minting business. And short supply of N-95 masks can be seen that light. People hoard and wait for the product to vanish from the market so that they can sell it on arbitrary/exorbitant prices later. The government has done its job and raided shops but changing age-old attitude of people overnight is an herculean task.

When contacted Civil Surgeon, Bathinda, Dr Amrik Singh Sandhu said, “These are costly items and we cannot give it to everyone and doctors and staff directly dealing with suspected/confirmed Covid-19 cases are being provided with N-95 masks and safety kits. As per the recent guidelines, we have provided safety kits to doctors working in the emergency unit.”

An Emergency Medical Officer said, “Some doctors have been managing things with old masks which were given during the Swine Flu season while others do not have N-95 masks. Moreover, no staff nurse dealing with suspected patients was provided with N-95 masks.” Civil Surgeon, Patiala, Dr Harish Malhotra said the safety kits were being provided to medical staff and doctors who would directly deal with Covid-19 suspected or confirmed cases as per the Government of India guidelines. Deputy Commissioner B Srinivasan could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu, Health and Family Welfare Department Director Avneet Kaur could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

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