Non-Covid patients in Bengal suffer as most doctors stop private practice
An excruciating toothache and swollen gums have been giving Nilanjan Chakraborty, a resident of Gariahat in south Kolkata, sleepless nights. On Friday, he called up a dental surgeon and tried his best to describe his symptoms. But the medicine prescribed by the surgeon did not work and Chakraborty had to ring another doctor.
From Kolkata to remote areas in north and south Bengal, people suffering from chronic diseases or sudden ailments are having a tough time, as a large section of private practitioners have stopped seeing patients.
“In a town like ours, people depend on traditional doctors’ chambers,” said veteran folk singer Swapna Chakraborty, a resident of Suri town in Birbhum district, using a term common in Bengal for private clinics. “Most are closed. Luckily, a few doctors from a clinic are attending to house calls,” she said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday urged all doctors to continue with private practice while maintaining social distancing norms. Doctors, however, say this may expose more people, including themselves, to danger.
“The Medical Council of India has prescribed consultations over the phone and via videoconference for a good reason. The problem with opening small clinics and doctor’s chambers in the districts is that most of these facilities are small and have little or no infrastructure to ensure social distancing, screening of patients, recording travel history and no availability of personal protection equipment (PPE), N95 masks etc for doctors. The state government has itself issued an order saying PPEs are a must for doctors in non-emergency wards at hospitals,” said Dr Koushik Chaki, secretary, West Bengal Doctors Forum.
“We mentioned these before the chief minister at a meeting on April 28. Doctors are ready to continue their private practice, but who will ensure that it does not lead to a social pandemonium? Also, who will bear the additional cost of PPEs, etc?” Dr Chaki added.
Among doctors, dental surgeons and eye and ENT specialists feel the most vulnerable, as they come closest to a patient’s face.
“The Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of India has said in a guideline, that surgeons and their staff have to use protective gear and sanitize the operation theatre after every procedure. Also, there has to be a restriction on appointments to avoid crowding. As a doctor, my conscience does not allow me to pass the additional expenditure on to my patients, but how long can I bear it?” said Dr Rajarshi Banerjee, a dental and maxillofacial surgeon.
In the absence of an adequate number of PPE kits, ENT surgeon Dr Atri Banerjee, who visits a private clinic in south Kolkata, has been wearing three gowns while seeing patients. “The eye protection gear available in the market is more like the ones worn by the bikers. Face covering headgear is in short supply. I undertook only three operations since the lockdown began, and non-emergency procedures were postponed. We cannot continue like this for long,” said Dr Banerjee.
Big private hospital chains, too, are facing problems.
“Around 40 per cent of our doctors are visiting the outpatient departments (OPDs) in rotation. Patients have been given the option of consulting doctors via video conference. Those coming to our hospitals are being spread across different lounges and waiting rooms in the hospital, to ensure distancing,” said a spokesperson of AMRI Hospitals where the state’s first Covid-19 death was recorded.
“People who live in Kolkata, at least have several options, despite the restrictions. We in small towns, however, are primarily dependent on private practitioners and they have stopped seeing patients,” said Dipankar Ghosh, a resident of Midnapore town.