Routine medical services badly hit in times of COVID19

For last six months since the outbreak of pandemic which compelled authorities to curtail services for non-COVID19 patients in Kashmir’s hospitals, the routine medical services have been badly affected.

In March this year, a routine blood test of a 28 year old man from a far-off village in Kupwara revealed that he had something seriously wrong in his body. A follow-up at SKIMS could have ensured registration of the patient in its Regional Cancer Center, further investigations and treatment. However, due to the restrictions on ‘cold procedures’ across tertiary care hospitals in Kashmir, the patient was never admitted and died four months later. His is a story that is getting repeated every day with hundreds of patients, a senior surgeon at this Institute said.

A professor at GMC Srinagar said that patients are unable to access medical services, termed ‘routine’ but life saving in nature. “Timely diagnosis and treatment saves lives. Every life-threatening condition does not present itself in a dramatic manner,” he said. He said hundreds of patients are being missed on cancer, tuberculosis, heart diseases and others due to the situation where hospitals are focusing on emergencies and COVID19 only.

At SMHS Hospital, Kashmir’s largest general specialty hospital, six wards have been converted into COVID19 wards. The manpower – doctors, nurses and paramedics of these wards now work for COVID19 patients. These wards were meant to admit patients suffering from illnesses that do not come under the ambit of COVID19 – infectious diseases, kidney diseases, diabetes, cancers, gastro-intestinal diseases, hypertension among others.  Patients suffering from these life threatening diseases and disorders, over the past six months, have found it hard to get a doctor to see them, unless it is “an absolute emergency”.

A senior faculty member at Government Medical College Srinagar said that while the Government claims that routine OPDs and admissions have been started, the fact remains that there are very few spaces and very little manpower available. “It is difficult to run the COVID19 services and non-COVID19 services from the same resources. The pandemic has been siphoning off our limited facilities and manpower,” he said.

Across peripheral healthcare set-up – the district hospitals and sub-district hospitals, patient services have been suffering majorly, a health official said. He said much of the manpower in the peripheries has been put on COVID19 duty and many hospitals have taken a big slice of wards to admit COVID19 patients. “While we have thousands of patients admitted across the hospitals in Kashmir, and we have the same manpower as we had before, it is the common patient who is paying the price for it,” he said.

The limited number of ICU beds in hospitals is also being shared by COVID19 and other patients, making it impossible for doctors to operationalise surgeries and other procedures, a senior health official said. The other major impediment, he said, was the availability of oxygen beds in hospitals. “Treatment of COVID19 is highly oxygen intensive and in our hospitals, that means other patients would not have much oxygen to depend on,” he said. The official said these issues had been raised by the faculty members across board however, due to the delay in augmenting manpower and other resources, matter remains unresolved.

Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education, Atal Dulloo acknowledged the ‘hardships’ faced by non-covid19 patients. He however said that the Government was working on a plan to cater to all kinds of patients with available resources. “It is not possible to create resources, especially that of manpower over night,” he said.

He said the casualty of the SMHS Hospital would be made fully functional soon. He said non-COVID work was going on in peripheral hospitals but the output could not be compared to last year’s. “That is due to a number of factors, one of those being lockdown,” he said, adding that in July 14 lakh OPD patients had been seen in peripheral hospitals.

Dulloo said that GMC Srinagar recently recruited 250 nurses, and 45 lecturers were recruited this week for various hospitals of the medical college. “They will also get 100 nursing orderlies soon for which the process has been started,” he said.