Delhi’s health infra on brink of collapse

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At 9pm on Thursday, there were a mere 15 ICU beds – of them only four with ventilators – remaining for Covid-19 patients in India’s national capital, the Delhi government’s hospital resource reporting app showed. The vacant beds accounted for 0.32% of the 4,663 ICU beds for Covid-19 cases.

Of the 20,443 regular hospital beds for people with the coronavirus, only 10.5% — or 2,141 – were available at the same time on Thursday.

These numbers illustrate the near-collapse of the health infrastructure under the burden of a record number of infections. While these numbers are dependent on how frequently and accurately hospital staff updates them, HT’s monitoring of the Delhi Corona website showed vacanacies at hospitals have significantly dropped in the past two days.

In the case of ICU beds, there was a peak of 34 vacancies that was reported on Wednesday morning before the number dropped soon after. For most of Thursday, there were fewer than 20 ICU beds available.

The number of vacant beds has followed a clearer fall, dropping from roughly 2,700 available on Tuesday evening to a little over 2,100 late on Thursday.

As on Thursday, there were 91,618 active cases in Delhi – the first time this number was above the 90,000 mark. The city added 26,169 new cases in the past 24 hours and recorded 306 more fatalities.

Experts say the numbers capture a crisis that has been unfolding for several weeks now and could drive up mortality as lives that can be saved with medical attention are lost.

“The situation in Delhi is very bad; it is turning out to be a Brazil-like situation. People are going from hospital to hospital for the want of beds. When hospitals are full and we can’t take care of patients, the number of deaths will go up. I believe they have set up a system in Maharashtra where a centralised helpline takes patients information such as name, age, oxygen saturation, reports of X-ray or CT scans and direct people to hospitals accordingly. There should be a similar system in Delhi,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the department of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research.

A doctor from one of Delhi’s big private hospitals, which is finding it difficult to refer patients out of its emergency department, too, said a centralised system was needed to cut down on the number of deaths.

“Every day there are patients who are brought dead to our emergency department. They have been going from hospital to hospital looking for beds. We lose patients because they are lying on the floor instead of the ICU they need. We have more patients than we have oxygen points. A solution would be for the government to take stock of the number of beds across the city and refer patients wherever beds are available. Hospitals such as the one built by the army should be meant for such referral patients,” the doctor said, asking not to be named.

“So far, there was hardly any difference in the mortality during this wave and the previous one, proving that the virus is not more fatal. However, the deaths may be higher now because the health system has been overburdened. And, we keep on adding more cases every day for which we need to add more infrastructure every day,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung hospital.

The situation could ease by a small degree later this week as the Union government decided to revive the Covid-19 case facility in Chattarpur, which will have 500 beds with oxygen support to begin with.

The facility, set up during the waves of infection recorded last year, was closed on February 23 when the outbreak appeared to have receded. It is now expected to be opened in three days’ time with the Indo-Tibet Border Police managing operations.

“Delhi government has assured us they will set-up the infrastructure in maximum three days and hand over the facility to us. Our team of doctors and paramedics is ready. It will be operational in two-three days,” director general of ITBP, SS Deswal, told HT.

The facility, named Sardar Patel Covid Care Centre, is at the Radha Soami Beas grounds.

“The Delhi government had sought medical officers and para-medical staff from the ministry of home affairs to man the Sardar Patel Covid Care Centre at Chhattarpur, which is being re-operationalised. The Ministry of Home Affairs has designated ITBP as the nodal force for operating the facility,” a home ministry spokesperson said.

“It has been decided to provide an adequate number of medical officers and para-medical staff to man 500 oxygenated beds to Sardar Patel Covid centre, Chhattarpur in Delhi,” said an MHA letter reviewed by HT.

An officer, who didn’t want to be named, said they are hoping to increase the number of beds to 1,500 by the first week of May.



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