On April 10, a 31-year-old man in Bengaluru who tested positive for the novel coronavirus passed away. He reportedly went from one hospital to another in search of an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed. The family of the deceased reportedly approached two private hospitals but were informed that there were no ICU beds. Several such incidents have been reported from across the country including from Bengaluru where the number of COVID-19 cases is rapidly increasing.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, Bengaluruâ€™s systematic updates were applauded. Both the state government and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) routinely released details like the number of beds available, ICUs, ventilators, as well as the number of positive cases. However, the dashboard does not include figures from private hospitals which contributes to a bulk of COVID-19 beds.
Confirming the same to TNM, BBMP commissioner Gaurav Gupta had said, â€śIn Bengaluru, the government hospitals have around 4,000 beds. While the private sector has approximately 20,000-30,000 beds. So the private sector is the predominant playerâ€ť.
So when citizens have no access to information on a majority of beds, chaos is inevitable. Private hospitals and the BBMP have been passing the buck on who is responsible for this lapse.
Gaurav Gupta said that the dashboard is currently incomplete because private hospitals have not been forthcoming with information. â€śWe're working with the private hospitals and their association on the same. We have informed them that they can use our portal to display the availability of COVID-19 beds in their hospitals. The efforts have been made at the state government level also to make this possible and I think so far the response has not been at the expected level. Private hospitals are working perhaps in the individual mode and not in a collective mode,â€ť he said.
The pressure to provide the government with details of beds available in private hospitals should come from the state government, said the BBMP Commissioner. â€śThese things require either consensus or if consensus does not happen, then coercion. At the local body level, we have our hands full so I leave this to others at the state government level to take this up,â€ť said Gaurav Gupta.
Manipal Hospitals Chairman Dr Sudharshan Ballal said that they have been advocating for a transparent dashboard for a long time. Speaking to TNM, he said, â€śWe have been one of the earliest proponents of dashboards and the government had come up with dashboards last time around. It is something we may have to start again.â€ť
Talking about the challenges the private hospitals are facing viz-a-viz bed reservation for COVID-19 patients, Dr Ballal said, â€śOne of the issues is that we have several COVID-19 patients already in hospitals. Along with this, there are a large number of non-COVID-19 patients too. Now the government, for the right reasons, wants to reserve beds in the hospitals for incoming COVID-19 patients. Now there are these three streams of patients and we can discharge them only when they are fit enough. So, we are working with the government on the allocation of beds but it will take some time.â€ť
Karnataka Health Minister K Sudhakar told TNM that the government is working on providing citizens with real-time numbers. â€śThe BBMP dashboard will be live and functional soon to provide real-time data on the availability of beds,â€ť he said. No time frame has been given for this.
Gaurav Gupta said that the BBMP has started COVID-19 care centres for those who are mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic but cannot remain in isolation in their houses because of lack of space or any other reason.
â€śWe have started COVID-19 care centres in two places and will start 10 more in the coming days. Besides, we are also working with the private hotels and private hospitals to see how they can be something else and run by the private hospitals as private COVID-19 care centres,â€ť he said on measures being taken to counter the growing problem of bed shortage.