Updated: May 26, 2020 11:01:49 am
A day after a 46-year-old nurse at a private hospital in Delhi succumbed to Covid-19, her colleagues have alleged that the hospital made nurses “reuse personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and masks”.
On Sunday afternoon, Ambika P K, a nurse at Kalra Hospital, died at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where she was admitted on May 21. She is the first nurse to have died of the virus in Delhi.
The Indian Express spoke to 10 nursing staff at the hospital as well as Ambika’s son, and all of them spoke about PPEs being reused during duty.
A senior nurse at Kalra Hospital claimed, “While the doctors were given fresh PPE, the nurses were asked to reuse PPE. If we raised objections, we were told that since this is not a designated Covid-19 hospital, we are at little risk, and can reuse PPE.”
The Indian Express spoke to the owner of the hospital, Dr R N Kalra, who denied the allegations and said that adequate PPE and hand sanitisers were being provided to all employees. “I have not received a single complaint from any staffer. If there is a single discrepancy, I will investigate and take strict action,” said Dr Kalra. The Indian Express also spoke to nurses in-charge S Wilson and Anita Soni, who also denied the allegations. “PPE, gloves and sanitisers are available in bulk,” said Soni.
A senior nurse, who said she was close to Ambika, alleged that on her last day at Kalra Hospital a week ago, Ambika got into an argument with the nursing in-charge about “not getting fresh PPE and masks”. Another senior nurse who worked in the ICU with Ambika confirmed this.
Ambika’s friend and colleague claimed that she was working until May 18, when she did a morning shift and refused to do the night shift as she was feeling sick. “At night, she had fever, a bad throat and body ache, so we advised her to rest. On May 19, too, she was sick, and on May 21, she had difficulty breathing, so she was taken to Safdarjung Hospital,” said the nurse.
She died on the afternoon of May 24.
Ambika lived in Delhi with her 16-year-old daughter, while her husband is in Malaysia, and son in Kerala. She had been working at Kalra Hospital for over 10 years and was deployed in the hospital’s neonatal wing, but was recently asked to work in the ICU.
Ambika’s son Akhil, 22, who flew to Delhi from Kerala on Monday evening, told The Indian Express,
“My mother’s condition deteriorated so rapidly… I couldn’t understand how to get here sooner. Over a week ago, she mentioned that the hospital was making her reuse PPE and charging money for masks. I got agitated and told her to just stay at home, but she didn’t listen to me. She continued working, and now she is dead.”
On Monday, Anto Antony, MP from Kerala’s Pathanamthitta, where Ambika hailed from, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on the nurse’s death.
In the letter to the PM, Antony “requested for release of insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh to Ambika’s family” and alleged, “Private hospitals are not providing any kind of protective material, including N95 masks, to staff employed in their hospitals.”
In the letter to Kejriwal, Antony requested for release of compensation of Rs 1 crore to Ambika’s family, and said that “her untimely death raises several questions regarding safety of the nurses working in hospitals”.
Rajya Sabha MP K K Ragesh too wrote to Kejriwal: “She is the first nurse in India who lost her life due to Covid-19… There are reports that nurses and healthcare workers in several hospitals in Delhi are forced to work without protective equipment even now… It is also requested to take urgent measures to ensure that hospitals are taking all mandatory measures to ensure safety of health workers.”
When asked about the letters sent by the MP, the Delhi government did not respond.
A senior government official, however, said on condition of anonymity, “If a frontline healthcare worker, be it in a private hospital or government, contracts Covid on the job and dies, compensation will be given to the family for sure. Once we receive details regarding her case, we will proceed accordingly.”
A senior nurse at Kalra Hospital said many of them had decided not to go to the hospital till adequate safety arrangements were made. “Today it’s Ambika, tomorrow it can be me. I have not reported to work since Ambika’s death. Our neighbours aren’t happy about having a nurse next door,” she said.
Alleging that for “for two months, discarded PPEs were being rotated among nurses”, she said, “Some of us stopped wearing PPE,” she alleged.
A male nurse also said he had quarantined himself at home, and refused to show up at work. Another nurse said her parents “pleaded with her to skip work after they read about Ambika’s death”.
Another senior nurse at Kalra Hospital said a doctor in the ICU had recently objected to nurses being made to reuse PPE. “The doctor said he won’t allow us in, and tore the discarded PPE. He said it wasn’t safe for us or the staff or patients. So, we have been wearing the OT gown instead. Instead of N95 masks, we have been given washable cloth masks,” said the senior nurse.
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