Dear TN Govt, the Hospital Beds Are Here, But Where Is the Staff?
Private hospitals in Chennai said that though beds are available, there isn’t adequate doctors and medical staff.
Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Producer: Smitha TK
As on 13 June 5pm, there are 40,698 cases in Tamil Nadu, of which 28,924 are from Chennai. Since the last week of May, the state has been recording the ‘highest single day spike’ everyday.
After several media reports slamming the government and private hospitals for non-availability of beds and charging massive rates for COVID treatment, the health minister informed hospitals across Chennai to increase the number of beds.
The Quint contacted these private hospitals and found out that the numbers don’t match with the reality.
Are There Adequate Beds?
As on 13 June, 8 am, the bed capacity in private hospitals in the city is 3,314, of which of which 1,258 are in use, which means 2,056 are vacant. There are 271 ICU beds in all, of which 223 are occupied. There are 182 ventilators available, of which 66 ventilators are in use and 109 are vacant.
When The Quint contacted several hospitals, we found that though the website shows availability of beds and ventilators, the hospitals were actually full.
“It will take 3-4 hours to just know our bed status. If the patient has breathing issues, it will be best to take him elsewhere because we don’t even have beds in the general ward here and there are a few patients already waiting,” said a person from a leading multi-speciality hospital. A few others told they have been told to direct all patients with serious health conditions to government hospitals and treat only those with mild and moderate symptoms.
Are Hospitals Charging COVID Patients as per the Government Fixed Rates?
The Tamil Nadu State Health department has determined maximum applicable rates for per day treatment of COVID-19 patients in private hospitals.
The hospitals have been classified under two categories - Grade A1/ A2 and Grade A3 / A4. Grade A1 and A2 hospitals may levy a maximum of Rs 7,500 per day for the general ward, whereas Grade A3 and A4 hospitals may levy up to Rs 5,000 per day of admission.
If admitted in the intensive care unit (ICU), all hospitals, irrespective of the grades they fall under, have been instructed that the charges may not exceed Rs 15,000 per day.
This order came after the state health department received several complaints from patients that private hospitals were charging huge sums of money for COVID-19 treatment.
The Tamil Nadu branch of the Indian Medical Association too demanded that tariff in private hospitals be capped. While majority of the hospitals said they are charging only the government fixed rates, many others said they have stopped admitting patients because these ‘lower rates are not feasible.’
A multi-speciality hospital in Chennai said they offer a 5-day COVID package of Rs 1.5 lakh for the general ward and they have six different variations in the rooms with different tariffs.
Several private hospital owners said that because of the doing of a few corporate institutions in the city, their collective image is being tarnished.
Beds Are Ready, but Not the Manpower
The state government has asked several hospitals in the city to set aside beds for COVID treatment and this is evident on the government website. But when The Quint spoke to hospitals in the city, we found that they are not functional as they don’t have adequate doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff.
“I am running short of staff nurses. Currently we are concentrating on the patients here..next week onwards I'll be able to take COVID cases. This is the reality all throughout the city,” said a person from one of the most reputed medical institutions in the city.
“We have reorganised our hospital and because there has been a surge in the number of cases and we've got orders from Collectorate. For the time being we are not taking any patients. Because we have been told to reorganise, we don't know if the government is taking over all the beds,” said another hospital.
COVID Staff Should be Covered by Insurance: IMA
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami clarified on 12 June that “We can't take over private hospitals. Its a democratic country, not dictatorship. We can ask them to treat, we can fix fees.” Private hospitals believe it is not fair for the government to declare the availability of beds, without ensuring enough medical staff.
The Tamil Nadu branch of the Indian Medical Association in a letter to the health ministry, recommended designated COVID care facilities in the state. They proposed that suspected COVID cases should be pulled to one area in order to help in screening , notifying and prevention of community spread and hospitals with more than 200 beds to be utilised for COVID centres. They urged the state to release protocols for man power requirements and infrastructure facilities.
“Increasing beds includes increasing the number of doctors, nurses paramedical workers and including facilities such as oxygen supply and our equipments. All this matters. You have to plan it, can’t happen just like that.”Dr C N Raja, Tamil Nadu President, Indian Medical Association
The association demanded that health care staff working in COVID centres in government and private hospitals to be covered under insurance by central and state government.
“Many doctors and paramedical staff are being tested positive... the numbers are increasing day by day. After a doctor sees a COVID patient for one week, they have to go for quarantine for 14 days. So where is the manpower to do all this ? Senior most doctors are 60 years and above and have their own co-morbidities.” he added.
“These health care workers are like the army now,” he said.
‘Build a Volunteer Workforce’
Heads of private hospitals told The Quint that there needs to be more clarity in the announcements made by the health ministry.
“The government needs to build a volunteer workforce to reduce the burden on healthcare. They should be willing to do some level of training like health safety, learn simple processes. That will help a lot for example, counselling, front office, housekeeping and manning of the phones. Yes, there is a shortage of doctors and nurses but this can help. The state then needs to purchase and sell critical equipment. Price fixing needs to be cleared and BPL schemes need to be protected,” said Dr Sam Sameer Mehta, convenor at Dr Mehta’s Hospital.
In order to ensure transparency, he urged all patients to post their bills online, so that hospitals that ‘misbehave don’t charge exorbitantly.’
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