Even as the World Health Organisation has urged that it is critical that people living with mental health conditions have continued access to treatment amid the Covid-19 pandemic, authorities of government-run mental hospitals across the state admitted that they have seen fewer admissions in the past month.
The number of patients at out-patient departments has also dwindled, they said.
Dr Abhijeet Phadnis, medical superintendent at the state’s largest mental hospital in Pune, said the hospital currently has 1,100 patients undergoing treatment, while it can accommodate 2,540 patients. A daily OPD, which usually gets 200 patients, is now seeing half that number due to the pandemic and the lockdown.
Due to the increasing number of Covid cases in Pune, at least 25 nurses from the Regional Mental Hospital at Yerawada have been deputed at Naidu Hospital while seven Class IV staffers have been sent to the Central building’s health department.
“We are not immediately affected but once the lockdown lifts, there will be a shortage,” said Dr Phadnis.
At the hospital, services are also being provided via telephonic counselling and in the most severe cases, doctors conduct their regular examination. A one-window system has been set up where medicines are being dispensed, so that patients’ relatives can maintain social distancing norms.
It is, however, very difficult to get patients with mental ailments to practice social distancing, admitted Dr Phadnis. Similar sentiments were echoed by other government-run mental hospital superintendents.
At the state-run mental hospital at Thane, medical superintendent Dr Rita Paravde said they had an intake capacity of 1,850 patients, but had 880 patients currently. From the Thane hospital, seven nurses have been deputed to care for Covid-19 patients. “… Some patients who are recovering and do not have a severe mental illness can understand the need to wear a mask and maintain social distancing. But in cases where there is aggressive behaviour and other symptoms, it is a challenge. We have to cajole and talk gently with these patients,” said Dr Parvade.
Dr Madhuri Thorat, medical superintendent at the regional mental hospital at Nagpur, said the hospital had 453 patients. “There is a dip in the number of patients coming to the OPD, but we are counselling relatives of the patients on how to take care of them. At the OPD also, doctors wear masks and gloves as part of the measures to prevent Covid-19,” said Dr Thorat.
Self-help groups for alcohol, drug dependence unable to meet
While mental healthcare systems have been affected, community services such as self-help groups for alcohol and drug dependence have been unable to meet. At Muktangan De- Addiction Centre, director Mukta Puntambekar said they have stopped new admissions. “We have an intake capacity of 150 patients who face problems related to alcohol and drug dependence. Due to the lockdown, 25-30 patients at the centre could not move out… we have stopped admissions till June 3 and have been engaged in telephonic counselling of patients and relatives,” he said.
“Daily, there are more than 60-70 calls. From June 3, we will restart the centre but due to social distancing, can admit only 10 patients in a week and already, there is a long waiting list,” said Puntambekar.
According to Dr Vikram Patel, professor at the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, it is deeply worrying that people with mental health problems may not be accessing health care, as this may lead to a deterioration of their conditions. “It is imperative that the need to encourage physical distancing is not done at the cost of continuation of all essential healthcare services and to reassure all people that their existing healthcare needs will continue to be met without interruption,” said Dr Patel.
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