Zameer Ahmed Munna, former councillor and a veteran political leader from Seelampur area in North-East Delhi, died of Covid-19 on June 11. His son-in-law SM Hussain alleges that it was due to the negligence of a major private hospital in Patparganj as it refused to shift him from the emergency ward to the ICU for three days.

“The hospital said it didn’t have any beds available whereas the Delhi government application, Delhi Corona, that provides real-time updates on availability of hospital beds, showed vacant beds,” Hussain says, adding that he was admitted even in the emergency ward after nine hours of consistent effort, stiff argument and a lot of political pressure. 

Such allegations are pouring in from all parts of the national capital and dozens of video accusing hospitals of denying admission and treatment are being circulated on social media.

To cross-verify if the status of beds in Delhi Corona app is correct, Outlook spoke to the director of Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC) on Thursday evening when the web app showed five vacant beds there.

“We don’t have a single bed vacant right now,” said Dr (Prof) NN Mathur, Director, LHMC. He said the application does not show a real-time picture as the data cannot be entered by all the hospitals in real-time.

“It will need dedicated staff to collect data from different wards and transfer it to the app in real-time through mobile phone. Hospitals are already under considerable stress to transmit data in a dozen formats each day to various agencies. Hospital has to primarily focus on medical care,” he said.

On the night of June 11, Delhi Corona app showed 4,239 vacant beds which makes 45 per cent of the total beds available in the city. Out of these 4239, 24 per cent—1,079—beds were in various private hospitals. 

Well-known lawyer and activist Ashok Agarwal points out another flaw. “The application doesn’t say that the vacant beds are reserved for the economically-weaker sections (EWS). So, people often get the impression that the hospital is lying.” Agarwal says that besides shortage of beds, mismanagement is another issue.

“Instead of letting the bed remain vacant, the Delhi government should shift all EWS patients from govt hospitals to private hospitals for maximum utilisation of the available health infrastructure,” Agarwal suggests.

Raising questions on why a large number of both Covid as well as non-Covid beds earmarked for EWS patients in 61 private hospitals of Delhi are lying vacant, he asks, “Why are poor patients from government hospitals not referred to these private hospitals? For instance, St. Stephen’s Hospital has 59 out of 60 EWS beds vacant.”

A few medical professionals say that beds are available in both government and private institutions, but they don’t match patients’ needs for various reasons. For instance, in Munna’s case, since the treatment was on at a private hospital in east Delhi, he couldn’t opt for any other hospital even if bed was available.

“Distance from home, familiarity with the doctor, preference for a private hospital due to hygiene and better health facilities are some of the factors that influence a patients’ decision,” a doctor from a government hospital said. 

As compared to private hospitals, government hospitals charge nominal fee for admission and treatment, besides having very good doctors. Still, patients prefer private ones. That’s another reason why there are no takers for beds in govt hospitals.

Dr Narottam Puri, Advisor, FICCI Health Services Committee, says people have less faith in public hospitals as compared to private hospitals. “Given the fear that people have of government facilities in terms of hygiene and quality of care, people don’t mind paying out of pocket or through insurance,” he says.

He says this is the reason that beds are freely available in Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital and to a lesser extent in Safdarjung Hospital, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and  All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, but the pressure on private hospitals is very high.

Besides availability of beds, Dr Puri points towards another problem. “Numbers are rising every day. But I want you to be cognizant of not just the numbers but also if there is a concomitant increase in nursing, medical and paramedic staff, and if proper equipment and training is available to those manning the beds,” he says.

AIIMS RDA president Adarsh Pratap Singh agrees with Puri. He says the government can enhance the number of beds by erecting a temporary structure in stadia, temple complexes and community halls, but nursing staff and medical professionals are also required to take care of them.

“Can we create healthcare professionals overnight? This is the next challenge that government should be ready to face,” Singh says, adding that protecting healthcare professionals from getting infected is already a big challenge.

LNJP RDA president Dr Parv Mittal suggests a possible way could be “recruitment of doctors from lesser-affected states.” He also says at present there are adequate beds in LNJP but there is a crunch of manpower.

“At present Delhi doesn’t have a shortage of beds for an immediate rise in cases. However, the daily number of fresh cases has sharply risen after Unlock 1.0; around 1300-1400 new cases per day which is a worrying trend,” he says.

He adds, “Considering this number continues to rise in coming days, the probability of shortage of beds is high. The government should increase beds by converting large areas like stadia and community halls into makeshift quarantine facilities. More importantly, it should draw a plan to increase the healthcare workforce required to attend to these beds.”

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