Srinagar, Dec 31: The year 2021 too ended on the note of pandemic.
From the year 2020 onwards, every aspect of life, business, policy, and politics became about the health and safety of humankind.
Yet, healthcare per se has been suffering due to the pandemic.
The year 2021 was about realisation that COVID-19 could continue for years but hospitals needed to be available for the patients suffering from other ailments.
The most significant achievement of 2021 in terms of healthcare infrastructure was the creation of 500-bedded DRDO Hospitals in both the Kashmir and Jammu divisions.
Though set up as temporary and make-shift facilities, the hospitals have the potential to take the load of COVID-19 patients from tertiary care hospitals.
For most of the year, the specialty hospitals of Kashmir – SKIMS Soura, SMHS Hospital, Chest Diseases Hospital, and others remained mostly off bounds for patients suffering from diseases other than COVID-19.
As the second wave and till now the largest wave of COVID-19 in India emerged at the beginning of the year, all hospitals were found struggling to cater to a load of patients.
The visuals of patients lined up in corridors, on roads, in lawns, and in vehicles evoked emergency preparedness response in J&K.
Oxygen beds were the most critical component of the preparedness and they abounded in tertiary care. The hospitals were directed to shut down “routine patient care” and admit only COVID-19 patients.
For months, those suffering from cardiac ailments, kidney ailments, cancers, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases waited to be seen by a doctor in these hospitals.
Many who had surgeries scheduled were asked to wait till the hospitals become available again.
There is no data on how many patients lost lives from March 2020 till July 2021 in J&K due to not being able to get proper medical attention.
The scare of COVID-19 added to the distance between a patient and a doctor.
As the second wave ebbed, the DRDO Hospital had been made functional.
Now, although there is a trickle of patients of COVID-19 requiring admission, a significant number of these are sent to this facility.
Most get admitted at Chest Diseases Hospital and a minuscule number continue to land up in other tertiary care hospitals.
Healthcare has been liberated to a great extent from COVID-19.
However, what would decide the extent of liberation is the level of facilities set up at the DRDO Hospitals.
The news regarding hundreds of faulty ventilators supplied at the peak of the pandemic to many hospitals including the DRDO Hospitals puts a question mark over J&K’s preparedness measures.
If, when the need arises again, the ventilators that the healthcare system here banks on do not perform the function those are expected to, the result would be clear. The entire healthcare system in J&K could crumble under a load of COVID-19 patients again.
What is also required is that the hospital manpower is trained adequately to deliver in times of a crisis.
The year also witnessed some unprecedented scenarios in other areas.
Medical education has been hit badly with the delay in the completion of admissions of MBBS, MD, and MS.
The hospitals that rely on the resident doctors to fill in the gaps of manpower deficiency are in the doldrums as the government has begun the process of weaning them off other doctors working on tenure posts. In J&K, an order issued by the government earlier asked the medical colleges of J&K to relieve all registrars and residents by December 31.
This would mean that the hospitals of these medical colleges would be left all the more staff deficient than they have been through the year, the shortage aggravated by the non-availability of a fresh batch of postgraduate students.
The staff shortage is also set to hit the new Children’s Hospital recently inaugurated at Bemina.
The hospital is yet to become functional and currently, only a couple of doctors provide OPD services at the premises.
However, the government plans to shift to the new building soon.
The 500-bedded hospital would be run by a staff of a 200-bedded hospital.
The additional manpower that was to be recruited for the facility is yet to be identified.
The year went by without any progress on the process of nearly 300 posts for the much-awaited facility.
Yet, the year would be remembered for COVID-19 and improvising healthcare to suit the changes it has brought in the world order.