A surge in patients, colleagues testing positive for Covid, and burnout after a long year of battling the pandemic — with the rapid and highest yet spike in cases in Delhi, healthcare workers at hospitals are feeling the pressure.
Faced with a fresh and unprecedented surge after more than a year since the start of India’s fight against the virus, some healthcare workers spoke of the mental strain involved.
“It has been more than a year of dealing with this. There was a time around February when we were quite psychologically uplifted — the number of cases were down, and we were receiving vaccines. But with things suddenly taking a sharp turn for the worse after that, people are exhausted now,” said Dr Arif Sohaib, an anaesthetist working in South Delhi.
In Delhi’s large Covid care hospitals, healthcare workers are being stretched thin. According to an updated order issued by the state health department, 14 top private hospitals in the city are now required to reserve at least 3,553 beds out of 4,337 beds for Covid-19 patients. In addition, the 14 hospitals are allowed to temporarily increase bed capacity up to 35% and additional beds may be utilised for treatment of non-Covid patients.
“The current situation is putting a lot of strain of our resources, financial and human. Expanding capacities, especially ICU capacities, is also a question of equipping each bed with resources and have nurses and doctors tend to them. The caps on Covid treatment (Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 for isolation beds; Rs 13,000-Rs 15,000 for ICU beds without ventilator support; and Rs 15,000-Rs 18,000 for ICU beds with ventilator support) is something that puts a lot of strain on private hospitals. And with human resources running thin, it is already difficult in hospitals. But hospitals like ours also have to provide nurses and doctors to hotels and banquet halls. But it is a national calamity, and everything will be done to tackle it,” said Dr S P Byotra, chairman, department of internal medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Meanwhile, the number of cases among healthcare workers has also been rising.
“In the last month, 35-40 members of the nursing staff have tested positive. Apart from that, there are also others who need to isolate at home because of family members testing positive. So there is an emerging staff shortage… Our hospital still has OPDs functioning but it’s not just those working in Covid wards who are highly exposed in this surge. People are coming by public transport; we are careful but many people are not wearing masks,” said RML Nurses Union secretary Santha Sivarajan.
At Lok Nayak Hospital, nursing officer Jeemol Shaji said new patients are arriving at the hospital “every 10 minutes”. “Till a few weeks back, we had just 10-12 patients at a time in the Covid ward. From the start of this month, we have had more than 500 patients. But we have over 1,600 beds in our hospital and all staff are on Covid duty so we are not feeling that much of a burden yet,” she said.
But a nursing officer at Rajeev Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital said the workload for nursing staff is increasing by up to 10 hours a week, and described the pressure as “higher than during last year’s peak in November”.