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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Punjab says Rs 1,000 crore spent on health infrastructure, but gaps remain as Covid cases surge

The government, however, argues that 4,000 regular health staff have been recruited, bed capacity for Level 2 and Level 3 has been enhanced, and oxygen plants set up.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana |
April 21, 2021 9:36:49 am
Punjab, COVID-19, Ludhiana covid-19A Covid testing laboratory at Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Ludhiana. Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh

While the Punjab government claims that it has spent over Rs 1,000 crore in the last one year to ramp up state’s health infrastructure, the fact remains that only two government district hospitals have created new ICU facilities since Covid struck, there are ventilators but still shortage of staff to operate them and there are no dedicated Covid hospitals even today in Mohali and Ropar.

The government, however, argues that 4,000 regular health staff have been recruited, bed capacity for Level 2 and Level 3 has been enhanced, and oxygen plants set up.

Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, nodal officer for Covid-19, said, “Last year during Covid peak in September- October, we had 5,000 beds for Level 2 patients in government as well as private institutes, while 900 for Level 3 patients (ICU care). However as of now, we have 7,506 beds for Level 2 patients and 2,047 for Level 3. We had 700 ventilators during peak last year and now we have 1,000 ventilators in government as well as private hospitals.”

Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu added, “Out of these beds, 3,909 for Level 2 (oxygen beds) are in government hospitals and 658 for Level 3 are in government institutes.”

However, except for government medical colleges at Faridkot, Patiala and Amritsar where the ICU facility is available, Jalandhar civil hospital has 57 bedded ICU, while Ludhiana civil hospital’s ICU is 18 bedded.

Jalandhar was the only civil hospital in Punjab which had 18 bedded ICU when Covid started last year. “Now, this ICU has been upgraded to 57 bedded,” said Ghanshyam Thori, DC Jalandhar.

Dr Sukhjiwan Kakkar, civil surgeon, Ludhiana, said, “We had a tie up with CMCH for our 5 bedded ICU when Covid had started, now we have made our own 18 bedded ICU at civil hospital for Level 3 patients.”

However, all other districts are dependent on medical colleges or private institutes only. Balbir Sidhu said, “It is a patient’s choice as to where he/she wants to go. But we have created our facilities and are ready to cater to patients of all categories.”

A letter dated April 10 this year by Rajesh Bhushan, secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Union government, addressed to Punjab Health Secretary Hussan Lal indicated that as per the report of central teams deployed in 9 most affected districts of Punjab, there is a need to enhance contact tracing in Patiala and Ludhiana. It added that there is shortage of manpower in Mohali for contact tracing, no RT-PCR lab in Ropar, no dedicated Covid hospitals in Mohali and Ropar forcing patients to go to neighbouring districts or Chandigarh.
The letter also indicated that though ventilators are there, but there is shortage of manpower to operate them in Ropar. Shortage of health staff is also in Mohali and Patiala was also pointed out. Dr Bhaskar said, “We are increasing more beds for L-2 category in Mohali.”
Health Minister added, “We have recruited nearly 4,000 regular staff which includes doctors, nurses and other paramedics in Punjab to cater to shortage of manpower, we have created four new labs in August last year itself for testing in Mohali, Jalandhar and Ludhiana .. all other gaps will be checked soon.”

Despite the claim of recruitment of staff by the Health Minister, the central government’s April 10 report had indicated that temporary staff must be employed at major districts of Punjab.

In a related development, doctors employed in rural dispensaries have said that they will not be doing Covid duties from April 25 onward as their demands are not being met.

Meanwhile, the two labs in Mohali, one each in Ludhiana and Jalandhar have testing capacity of 6,500 in total.

Punjab government labs as per the Covid status report of April 17 have testing capacity of 27,100 which can be enhanced up to 30,000 on any day.

However, it needs to be mentioned that testing capacity of 30,000 a day was created in September last year itself.

“Once in September, we did testing up to 32,000 tests a day,” said Dr Bhaskar.

Punjab government’s Medical Education Department has spent 4.5 crores in upgrading the Covid testing labs in Faridkot, Patiala and Amritsar ‘s government medical colleges where each lab can do testing up to 9,000 tests a day. However, all the labs do testing of less than 7,000 a day till now, as per the health department.

Punjab Health Minister said, “We are creating two oxygen plants in Ludhiana as well as Jalandhar to cater to oxygen supply and we have addressed the need for equipment in many government hospitals. 3,000 wellness centres under National Health Mission have also been opened, out of which 2,800 are operational now.”

Meanwhile, Covid patients in the state that The Indian Express spoke to said that they preferred private hospitals over government centres despite the high cost of treatment. Over 86 per cent active patients of Punjab are in home isolation only.

“Covid treatment in private hospitals is very costly, but we don’t trust treatment in government centres.. I had spent nearly Rs 5 lakh on my husband’s treatment at a Ludhiana private hospital. In November last year, in 7 days Rs 5 lakh was spent and I had to shift him to Faridkot medical college only because I ran out of money. But my husband did not survive,” said Karunjit Kaur of village Buttar in Moga whose 60-year-old husband had passed away due to Covid-19 in November last year.

“It is better to isolate yourself at home at an early stage only. My mother and father were 60 plus Covid patients, but still I managed them at home only though I was asked by authorities to get them admitted in a hospital. They are fine now. Private care is too costly while in the government system the trust has not yet improved,” said a Rajguru Nagar resident.

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