Every day after finishing his 12-hour shift at a COVID-19 ward in a Delhi government hospital, the 25-year-old nursing orderly returns home — a cramped two-room setup where he lives with seven family members, including his one-year-old niece. “I heard doctors have been put up at a hotel, some in a hostel, away from their families so that infection doesn’t spread. I asked for it too but was denied. What if I get infected and pass it on to my family members?” he asked.
The Indian Express spoke to nursing officers and nursing orderlies across private and public hospitals in Delhi, many of whom raised issues such as lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and N95 masks, a constant fear of falling sick, no separate accommodation, and losing morale.
Rince Joseph, national working president of the United Nurses’ Association, said, “Elective surgeries were taking place at several well-known private hospitals until recently. Private hospitals that don’t have COVID-19 wards are not providing PPEs to staff.”
Joseph, a nursing officer at a private hospital, said, “Health workers have been put in the line of fire without adequate gear”.
A senior nursing officer at a Delhi government hospital, who has been working at a COVID-19 ward since March 18, said those coming in contact directly with patients have been given PPEs, while the rest have been asked to make do with surgical masks and OT gowns.
While accommodation for nursing officers has been provided at a building next door, he hasn’t taken it up. “There are at least eight people in each room, and a common washroom. You cannot put health workers dealing with coronavirus patients in the same room. So I go back home daily,” he said. As soon as he found out that his duty will be in the COVID-19 ward, he dropped his wife and children to their village 250 km away.
On Monday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, asking him to ensure safety of nurses from Kerala working in the capital: “I would like to draw your kind attention to the situation which has been reported to us regarding the plight of nurses in Delhi. They are requesting that necessary steps should be taken to provide PPE and to provide separate and secure accommodation to employees who are diagnosed positive for coronavirus and those who presently have no symptoms… We are now hearing the news that some nurses are tested as positive for coronavirus in Delhi. We are receiving frantic telephone calls from them and their family members. ”
LD Ram Chandani, general secretary of Delhi Nurses Federation, said, “If everyone can’t be given PPEs, at least provide them HIV dress kits, if they are not directly in contact with patients. The nursing staff, safai karamchari have not even been given N95 masks.”
Another senior nursing officer who has been on COVID-19 duty since March 22 — first at the airport where he screened patients, then at a government hospital, and now at a centre in Dwarka — said that “each health worker, whether or not they are dealing with a COVID-19 patient, should be given an N95 mask at least…Everyone’s first priority is doctors, then nursing officers, and if anything is left, the nursing orderlies and safai karamcharis.”
“We saw on the news that accommodation provision will be made but there is nothing for us so far… maybe for the doctors. My wife and children live at a neighbour’s house. I live alone now,” said the senior nursing officer.
On Monday, 11 healthcare workers, including nursing officers, at the Delhi State Cancer Institute in Dilshad Garden tested positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of cases at DSCI to 19. “Even after a doctor tested positive, we had to beg for PPE and threaten to stop working,” said a nursing officer there, who tested negative.
So far, 35 healthcare workers, including 20 nursing staff, have tested positive in the capital.
A 32-year-old nursing orderly, who earns Rs 13,000 a month, and has been under home quarantine since March 31 after finishing his 14-day duty at a COVID-19 ward, said “My parents are elderly, so I have to be in complete isolation at home… My mother packs my food in disposable containers and keeps them outside my room.”
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