In Kashmir, doctor sacked for demanding standard quality protective gear
A healthcare worker testing positive in Baramulla hospital on Tuesday has exposed the lack of proper protective equipment for doctors treating Covid-19 patients in the valley
Last week, a young doctor at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) here went out of his way to nurse one of the sickest Covid-19 patients, who later died of the disease, in the isolation ward. However, the doctor was sacked on Monday. Reason: he demanded standard quality personal protective equipment (PPE) for the staff treating infected patients.
As the said patient’s family was away, the doctor would feed him, give him medicines, and hours before his death, he even changed his clothes, which he had brought from his home.
“The protective gear given to us is like a tissue paper and once I was completely exposed to the virus as the patient’s intravenous fluid leaked and seeped into my clothes through the substandard PPE, while I was changing his clothes,” said the resident doctor who did not want to named.
“My heart sank in that moment and I thought about my family. Later, I talked to my seniors and we all protested for good quality PPE sets, but I was sacked on Monday,” he said.
The doctor claimed that he was targeted only to threaten the other doctors for demanding standard protective gear. “We work under extreme risk. The administrators don’t dare to come to the wards where we are working day and night. Instead of acknowledging our effort, they targeted me individually and sacked me to set an example and threaten other doctors. Earlier too, they had sacked an ECG technician for demanding protective gear,” he said.
“I was threatened and told that my whole family will be sent behind the bars. What has this got to do with my family,” he asked.
Some 50km away, a senior doctor working at Government Medical College (GMC), Baramulla, was tested positive on Tuesday, becoming the first health worker to have contracted the disease in the valley. Here too, the hospital staff blamed the lack of proper protective equipment for the doctor’s infection.
Last week, the GMC faculty had even written a letter to the principal deploring, among other things, the lack of PPEs. “Our patients are our priority, but we cannot breach the national and international guidelines in terms of our own and families’ safety due to non-availability of specific PPEs,” the letter read.
The two incidents have exposed the working conditions of the healthcare workers in Kashmir, which has over 85% of the total Covid-19 cases (351 out of 407) in the Union territory.
Besides this, healthcare workers of the hospitals not exclusively for Covid-19 treatment have also raised similar concerns. “We are working without protection kits and have been provided simple gowns and washable masks which we are supposed to use for a month. Shoe covers have to be used as headgears and only using two gloves in 24 hours is allowed,” said a nurse at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital’s casualty wing.
Civil society members are questioning the authorities over the lack of standard protective gear.
“How can the administration take healthcare staff’s safety so lightly? I get have received so many calls from the frontline workers complaining that their protective gears are flimsy,” said Mudasir Naqshbandi, an advocate.
Reyaz Ahmad Untoo, principal of SKIMS Bemina, said the doctor was on a tenure engagement and was asked to go because of “gross indiscipline”.
“He rebuked and abused a senior faculty member and was inciting other doctors about the PPE kits being improper. Everybody in the hospital gets the same kit, if they don’t have issues, what is his problem,” Untoo asked adding that a committee looks into the quality issues and they have not raised any questions.
Kashmir divisional commissioner Pandurang K Pole said they were acquiring full-body PPE kits from outside as there were no approved manufacturing units in the valley for the same.
Stating that the doctor who tested positive in Baramulla was not on Covid-19 duty, Pole said, “Doctors getting exposed to the virus is a cause of concern and I have directed the medical superintendent and the deputy commissioner to make sure it does not happen. Gaps in our preparations, if any, will be rectified,” he ensured.