July 18, 2020 0 By FM

With the country witnessing a relentless increase in the number of COVID-19 patients, it is taking a toll on healthcare workers — the frontline warriors — as they are forced to work longer and denied quarantine after duty. Besides facing the risk of getting infected, healthcare workers are also under tremendous stress, which has even led to incidents of suicides. The current scenario points to the possibility of collapsing hospitals with further increase in COVID-19 cases. 

For the past few months, healthcare workers across the country have been engaged in a bitter fight against COVID-19. But with the increase in the number of cases, miseries of the healthcare workers have also started increasing. In the initial days, the shortage of PPE was a major issue. Though PPE kits have become available, their quality has emerged as a major concern now. 

“Even three months after we started handling COVID-19 cases, the government is not able to provide us with good quality PPE kits. What we are given is some kind of plastic PPE kits in which we get dehydrated within 15-20 minutes. We are also not provided with enough gloves and sanitizers. We are faced with a high risk of infection through contact,” said Dr Uma Nagendra Vishnu, President, Telangana-Junior Doctors Association (TJUDA). 

Inadequate safeguards; no quarantine after duty

The issue is not specific to any state or city. Healthcare workers across the country face similar issues. Joldin Francis, General Secretary, United Nurses Association (UNA), National Capital Region, said: “The condition of healthcare workers, particularly those working in the private sector, is very pathetic. They are not provided with quality PPE kits and quarantine after duty. Healthcare workers are also not provided with accommodation and are forced to work for 12 hours wearing PPE kits. It’s very difficult to work in PPE kits for 12 hours.”  

The increased cases and long working hours have also affected the morale of healthcare workers. “COVID-19 has its impact on the morale of resident doctors, who were already working 36-48 hours at a stretch. It’s very difficult to wear PPE kits for more than 5-6 hours due to sweating. One cannot even drink water. Resident doctors have tested positive in large numbers. They are in the front and are dealing with ICU patients. There are concerns over the morale of resident doctors,” said Dr R V Asokan, Secretary General, IMA. 

Another complaint is about the increase in workloads following the outbreak of COVID-19 “Healthcare workers have been dealing with various aspects, ranging from taking preventive measures to the treatment of COVID patients. Their stress levels have increased with an increase in workload. Their morale has also been declining and many of them are in a state of fatigue. It cannot be predicted how long healthcare workers can work like this. The chances of them getting infected after a fall in immunity level are also high. If they become positive, hospitals would become sources of infection. With the existing strength, it would be very difficult to handle [the situation] when COVID cases increase further,” said Dr Vijayakrishnan G S, General Secretary, Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA). 

Impact of infection

Dr Uma Nagendra Vishnu said that despite repeated requests to provide accommodation for the healthcare workers, the government is yet to respond positively. “If we get infected, we may carry the virus to our family members. Our demands for regular screening of healthcare workers have also fallen on deaf ears. Many healthcare workers are being tested COVID-19 positive of late. If more healthcare workers get infected, it will affect our healthcare system and the hospitals may collapse,” he said. 

Many healthcare workers are also concerned about infecting their family members. “Reports of healthcare workers becoming COVID-19 positive have its impact on other healthcare workers. Many of them are wary of infecting their parents, spouses and children. The related anxiety has been increasing,” said Dr Vijayakrishnan.    

The medical fraternity also feels that the workload can affect the quality of service rendered by healthcare workers. “Healthcare workers have been working without off days. How long can they work like that? The quality of work will be affected after healthcare workers become stressed. If the frontline warriors become infected, there won’t be sufficient frontline warriors to fight COVID-19 and it will scuttle all our plans,” said Abraham Varghese, IMA Kerala chapter. 

Healthcare workers have demanded that more staff should be recruited to handle an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. “The existing staff is not adequate to handle the present situation as the healthcare workers are already over stressed. More staff should be recruited to handle the situation. If enough staff is not recruited, there are chances of the overstressed staff boycotting their duties,” said Jibin T C, President, UNA, Maharashtra. 

Raising the demand for the appointment of more doctors, Dr Vijayakrishnan said that more staff should be appointed, and steps should be taken to reduce the workload and stress of healthcare workers. He pointed out that KGMOA recently launched an online psychological assistance programme to reduce the stress of healthcare workers.