A group of prominent senior health professionals, public health administrators, teachers, activists and members of civil society have written to Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender, expressing concern over the state government' response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter was written in the context of a recent attack on doctors on duty at the state-run Gandhi Hospital and subsequent protests staged by healthcare workers, demanding better protection and decentralisation of treatment. Gandhi Hospital is the nodal centre for COVID-19 treatment in the state. The strike was called off after three days, as talks were held between protesting doctors and the state government.
Those who signed the letter include personalities like former Union Health Secretary K Sujatha Rao, former Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Prof Shanta Sinha, Retired Osmania University professors like Rama Melkote and Padmaja Shaw, former Andhra Chief Secretary Minnie Mathew, among others.
"We would like to express our worry about the problems faced with the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic which is ravaging the state. We are not affiliated to any political party and we support the governmentâ€™s attempts to handle this difficult crisis," the letter stated.
Speaking about the attack on doctors by attendants of a deceased COVID-19 patient, they wrote, "It is quite clear that this event occurred because of the dire need for improvement in handling COVID-19 patients in the only functioning special wing in Telangana at Gandhi Hospital. The cogent demands of the junior doctors are from the absolute frontline of treatment in these difficult conditions, and thus reflect a clear understanding of the problems they face."
"Frontline workers such as these doctors deserve the administrative support of the government and acknowledgement of their invaluable contribution to society in these difficult times. They are the young, brave future leaders of the medical profession who are forging their experience and character by caring for patients in the evolving pandemic of this unknown disease," the letter added.
It also stated that it was 'gratifying' to note that the government has responded to the strike and promised to look into their demands.
"The demands of the Junior Doctors are particularly important feedback to improve the treatment of COVID-19 patients. These points are critical, given the increasing pressure that the system is expected to face in the coming days," they said.
The letter also made some further suggestions to improve the situation in the state. They are reproduced below.
1. Improve immediately the infrastructure and functioning at Gandhi Hospital to handle all cases of COVID-19 admitted there.
2. Decentralise with careful planning treatment of COVID-19 cases at various levels of health facilities including district hospitals to prevent mounting pressure on a single hospital leading to the crumbling of already inadequate infrastructure.
3. Operationalise fully the newly inaugurated Gachibowli COVID-19 speciality hospital as fast as possible.
4. Take immediate steps to augment and strengthen manpower, including specialist doctors, broad speciality doctors, nursing staff, paramedical staff, ward boys, patient care providers and others as needed on a long term basis.
5. Plan adequate staff relief by proper shift rotation to tired young doctors, nurses and attending staff as they work round the clock to treat patients.
6. Provide proper resting rooms with comfortable beds for the nurses and for other attending staff since they too will be extremely tired working on these patients.
7. Make provisions for mental health support services for frontline workers, as this crisis is taking a heavy toll on their health and well-being.
8. Provide adequate numbers of high-quality PPE kits, N95 masks to all healthcare workers at all public hospitals across the state.
9. Deploy security personnel with masks and other protective gear to advise patients and control movement/misconduct.
10. Include representatives from frontline medical staff in the advisory committee to the Health Ministry, to raise problems faced by junior doctors, nurses and attendants since this is direct feedback from the COVID frontline situation.
11. Involve private hospitals but with a reasonable price limit for all patients, and with Aarogyasri coverage for BPL patients who have white ration cards.â€ť
A copy of the letter was also marked to the Chief Secretary and Principal Health Secretary of Telangana.