“I had come to Patna from Delhi for Holi and got stuck here after lockdown,” said Manish Kumar, a resident of Kankarbagh and a second stage cancer patient, “I used to visit a private hospital in Delhi for chemotherapy but here I am unable to find one. I contacted a few hospitals in Patna but they have refused chemotherapy treatment.”
Cases such as these are heard across Patna; in the emphasis on tracking and treating COVID patients, the Patna authorities, like their counterparts in every other city in the country, have totally ignored the plight of patients suffering from other ailments and who need regular treatment and check ups.
Nirbhay Yadav, a resident of Patna, received a forehead injury in an accident. He visited a premium government hospital who refused to treat him as most doctors were busy treating corona patients. Finally, he managed to get treated in a private hospital. “But getting to the hospital was a major problem due to traffic regulation,” said Yadav.
Thalassaemia patients, especially the young, are facing major problems as no blood donation camps are being organized since the lockdown began and blood banks are running dry. The Red Cross Society, which has one of the biggest blood banks in Patna, is running out of blood. “Many thalassaemia patients are contacting me for blood, but we don’t have blood,” said Dr Binay Bahadur Sinha, chairman of the Bihar chapter of the Red Cross Society. If the lockdown continues, we will face a big problem”.
Dr Sinha added that he has made a video on Youtube asking society members to come forward for blood donation. “The society will collect the blood from their homes if anyone wants to donate,” added Dr Sinha. While no deaths due to Thalassaemia have been reported so far, people like Dr Sinha say that it is only a matter of time, if the blood supply situation does not improve.
No help for non-COVID patients
Though there is a government order that private hospitals should function normally, these hospitals are blithely ignoring the order, resulting in patients having to run from pillar to post to get even urgently needed treatment. Surgeries are not happening in any hospital in Patna and people are finding it difficult to get even an MRI done.
Most government hospitals are busy with COVID patients while many private hospitals are closed. Those which are open are scared of health risks from accepting new patients. Even treatment of regular patients is purely on the basis on how urgent it is. Processes like angioplasty, bypass surgery, replacement of valve and implantation of pacemaker are not happening in most private hospitals.
Interestingly, as per the Patna Municipal Corporation’s birth and death records, 1083 people have died so far in Patna between March 20th and April 27th. This figure is lower than in pre-COVID times as many deaths have not been recorded as people and funeral homes could not approach the PMC for death certificates because of the lockdown. These numbers are likely to go up, as the data is updated. So far, Bihar has reported only two COVID deaths and none is from Patna which has 39 positive cases.
Recently, 10 government health workers and three employees of a private hospital tested positive in Patna. Another seven para medical staff at a private hospital located on the Patna bypass were found positive. All were in the dialysis section. These cases have only raised fear levels among employees of private hospitals, which are now turning away patients.
Fear is the key
The Patna All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is one government hospital which claims they are treating non-COVID patients. “Chemotherapy facility is being provided to cancer patients, but only to old patients, not new ones,” said Dr P K Singh, Director, AIIMS. “We are not in a position to admit new patients due to the corona impact. For dialysis, we do not have any nephrologist in AIIMS”.
Even emergency cases are finding it difficult to get proper care. Private hospitals, on whom dialysis patients in particular are totally dependent, say their reason for refusing to accept new patients is that those with kidney problems have already compromised immunity which makes them vulnerable to the virus.
Though major government healthcare establishments in the city like the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) has been declared as a non-COVID hospital, it has closed its OPD and is admitting only serious cases.
“We are admitting non-COVID patients but when tested they turn positive,” said N R Biswas, director. “We are finding it very difficult to run the dialysis department. Some patients are asthmatic and when we conducted tests, we found they were corona patients. So it’s very risky which is why we have stopped OPD.” Explaining further, he said, “If OPD is functional, relatives come with the patient and they can risk the life of other patients in the hospital.” He stressed that even if one non-COVID patient shows symptoms, the entire premises has to be disinfected and the medical staff quarantined.
The other big government hospital in Patna, Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), has been designated only for treatment of coronavirus cases. “Treatment of other diseases are not happening here,” said Nirmal Kumar Sinha, superintendent of NMCH where 71 positive cases are admitted. “It is a global pandemic and we have to take extra precautions.”
Private hospitals refuse to help out
There is as yet no talk in Patna of empanelment of private hospitals, for treating both COVID and non-COVID patients. “We are screening every patient outside the hospital,” said Ajay Alok, managing director of the private Udayan Hospital. “Any patient having cold, cough, illness and travel history are being told to visit PMCH (Patna Medical College and Hospital). We are only admitting extremely urgent cases.”
This, despite statements by government officials that private hospitals denying treatment to patients would be considered having violated the Epidemic Act. “The health department has ordered all private hospitals to resume normal functioning,” said health department official Manoj Kumar. “They must treat all patients, including COVID patients who visit their hospital. If any hospital is not doing this, action will be taken against them.”
An “action” that private hospitals in Patna obviously have little fear of.