As COVID19 patients fill up hospitals in Kashmir, the rush of patients' attendants is emerging as a major infection spreading risk even as the dearth of nursing staff makes their presence indispensable for patient care.
At SKIMS Soura, COVID19 areas are abuzz with activity. Apart from the growing load of patients, each patient is accompanied by a number of attendants, a doctor working at the hospital said. He said that despite the viciously spreading virus,
and piling numbers of patients, the attendants and visitors move in and out of hospitals sans any protective measures in place. "Most of the time, they are not even wearing masks, sit in groups, use the same utensils as the patient and are careless about other measures they could take to safeguard themselves and others from getting infected," the doctor said.
At SMHS Hospital, where four wards were recently designated for COVID19 patients with comorbid conditions, the situation is no different. A doctor working at this hospital said the attendants and other people visiting the hospital seemed to be in denial of COVID19 pandemic.
Dr Nazir Chaudhary, medical superintendent SMHS Hospital said the administration was trying to enforce one attendant per patient. "But people need to cooperate as well," he said. He expressed disappointment over the practice of visiting the sick positive patients in hospitals. "The other day, we had to prevent an 80-year old visitor from entering our COVID19 ward," he said.
However, sans adequate nursing staff, the attendants become indispensable for patients, many doctors feel. A doctor at GMC Srinagar said that most of the COVID19 patients who were currently admitted at these hospitals were "very sick". He said that attendants take the role of nurses when the deputed staff falls short. "There is one nurse per ward but having 20-30 patients vying for attention, how many can she cater to," the doctor said. He said that there was a dire need to increase the nursing staff at these hospitals and 'take the attendant totally out'. "This will prevent spread of infection to a great deal."
A hospital administrator said engaging more nurses on arrangement through the National Health Mission or some other means had become imperative. "The load of patients is increasing every day. When we can hire people to take samples, we must also hire people who can save lives," he said.
Dr Farooq Jan, medical superintendent SKIMS said the hospital had deputed two nurses per ward, instead of one as was the practice. He said the hospital had cancelled all leaves and summer vacations of staff to ensure adequate staff is available round the clock. "That includes nurses," he said.
Dr Jan said the hospital has ensured that people attending the sick wear masks all the time. "We are trying our best to decongest hospitals as well as minimize chances of infection to others," he said.
Dr Chaudhary said one attendant per patient was "adequate". "Even if doubling up as a nurse, how many attendants would one patient need," he said.
Government also issued an order on Wednesday to empower healthcare administrators for taking punitive action against people not wearing masks. The order authorizes medical superintendents, deputy medical superintendents, chief medical officers, zonal medical officers and others to impose a fine of Rs 1000 on people found to be without a mask in areas under their jurisdiction.