Bengaluru is facing severe shortage of high-flow oxygen, ventilators and ICU beds.

An ambulance being sanitised by a worker in a PPE kitRepresentational image/PTI
Coronavirus COVID-19 Monday, April 26, 2021 - 17:52

For 35-year-old Naveen Shetty*, a coronavirus patient based in Bengaluru’s Bommanahalli, time has never been more crucial. From Saturday, April 24, he began experiencing low oxygen saturation levels (Sp02), which had dropped to 74 by Sunday evening [Anything below 95-94 can be a cause for concern]. 

His friends and family desperately tried to find an ICU bed with a ventilator. The patient was ferried in an ambulance to two hospitals along the Outer Ring Road, but both did not have an empty high-flow or ventialor bed to treat him. While waiting for help from government authorities and volunteer groups, they even considered admitting him to a hospital outside the city or even state, such as in Vellore or Chennai where the situation is much less dire.

On April 26 evening, they finally arranged a ventilator bed at Bowring Hospital in Bengaluru, waiting at least an hour for a ventilator-equipped ambulance for transportation. But Naveen’s situation is sadly not unique as some patients requiring high-flow oxygen or ventilators in Bengaluru have been taken outside the city to nearby Bengaluru Rural, Tumakuru and Mysuru districts in hope of saving their lives over the last week.

Read: Karnataka govt announces full lockdown from April 27 for 14 days

Bengaluru-based Nagenderan M, Civil Defence Quick Response Team, a volunteer team that helps allocate COVID-19 resources across the state, said, “There are barely any beds available. Daily, we are able to help fewer and fewer people. I have come across patients from Bengaluru going to Nelamangala (Bengaluru Rural) and Mysuru to find hospital beds.”

According to The Hindu, Health Minister K Sudhakar stated that nearly 10% of ICU beds in Mysuru were being occupied by patients from Bengaluru. Additionally, the Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) also reported that it was receiving more patients from other cities, Bengaluru included.  

The demand for urgent medical care is so intense that the BBMP’s bed status portal (https://bbmpgov.com/chbms/) has been crashing since Monday morning. Twitter and other social media platforms are filled with distress messages seeking ventilators or high-flow oxygen beds. 

Many volunteers and those seeking help to find hospital beds for relatives and friends say the government’s system has been inadequate. At times, the helpline number 1912 can take 10 minutes and upwards to reach an operator, a harrowing experience when a loved one is in need of urgent medical attention. 

Another problem is that the BBMP’s bed database for all COVID-19 beds under the government quota for Bengaluru is not updated in real-time as promised. The lack of a real-time online database for private ICU and ventilator beds in the city is another reason to worry.

Preeta Dutta, a Whitefield Rising volunteer who has been helping many patients find hospital beds, said, “The system is very complex, especially for those who are in distress. In the last 72 hours, we are running an ad-hoc helpline. The majority of these distress calls are now for young people in their 30s and 40s who need oxygen and ventilators.”

“I have called 108 (govt run centralised ambulance service) so many times that they recognise me and they call me back once there are free beds. I am prioritising based on the severity of the patient’s condition. I can understand if (108) can’t attend all the calls they are getting. The wait for a ventilator bed or oxygen bed can be as high as six hours,” she added.

To avail 108 service, a patient has to be first registered in 1912 (govt-run helpline), which will provide a registration number (other than an SRF ID and BU number) to be eligible for admission. For non-critical patients, 1912 can also give information on whether a patient can be taken to a hospital using private transport. 

She also pointed out that the shortage is of ventilator and ICU beds, while patients are being made to wait during a critical period of time, There have been deaths reported too as was seen during the peak crisis in mid-2020 when people were dying in ambulances moving from hospital to hospital. 

Part of the problem, said, is the absence of a government-initiated triage system to stop people asking for ICU or oxygen beds just out of panic. She explained, “There is no central government information directory or portal where volunteers can get information on bed allocation or oxygen availability. If that were the case, we could tell people that even if we can’t get an oxygen bed, they can arrange for an oxygen cylinder from X, Y or Z nearest point till we get a bed.”

“Currently, if we call the government-run Oxygen War Room, they will again call back after checking themselves. Had there been already a zone wise distribution of resources, this process would have been easier. So there is a necessity of information to be centralised and resources to be decentralised. This is very chaotic,” she added.

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