At around 1 am on June 4, Inder Bajaj’s 49-year-old diabetic mother started feeling breathless and was afraid that she may have the coronavirus. The young teacher, who lives in East Delhi, decided that it would be best to take his mother to a hospital. Over the next 13 hours, the family drove her to four hospitals around the capital – but all of them refused to admit her.
St Stephens Hospital said it did not have any empty beds. Lady Hardinge Hospital said they did not have sufficient oxygen supplies. Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital would not admit her without her Covid-19 test results stating that she was positive, said Bajaj. Even though his mother had been unwell for a few days, she had not been tested.
Finally, the family then took her to Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. But there too, the authorities said that they did not have any beds available.
The family waited outside the hospital for hours hoping that a place would free up, before deciding to return home around 2.30 pm. In the end, said Bajaj, the hospital authorities sent his mother off with some medicines, claiming that she had pneumonia.
Other families across the Capital faced the same problem. As the number of coronavirus cases jumps, questions have been raised about whether Delhi’s infrastructure can cope with the disease and patients with other conditions.
On June 4, the Delhi government in its health bulletin recorded 1,359 new cases, taking the total number of cases up to 25,004. The disease has claimed a total of 650 lives in Delhi.
On June 1, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority ordered district magistrates to identify indoor stadiums, banquet halls and other venues that could be used to set up beds for Covid-19 patients, The Indian Express reported.
On June 4, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced that three more private hospitals in the city were being converted into Covid-19 treatment facilities, in addition to five government-run and three private hospitals already being used for the purpose.
But relatives of several patients, including the Bajaj family, told Scroll.in that they had been unable to access beds in hospitals across the capital as authorities cited a shortage of beds.
Scroll.in sent queries about the situation to a Delhi government spokesperson as well as Dr ZSK Marak, the additional director (Covid-19) projects under the Director General of Health Services. This article will be updated if they respond.
Dr Minakshi Bhardwaj, the medical superintendent of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital told Scroll.in that availability of beds was a “dynamic situation”.
“Due to [a] huge rush of patients at RML and shifting of patients from suspected to confirmed wards or from ICUs, many a times beds are occupied to their full capacity,” Bhardwaj said. “It is very much possible that beds are not available at a point of time. Sometimes, we find it difficult to shift our own patients who turn out to be positive in other wards to Covid wards for the lack of availability of beds.”
Availability of beds
On June 2, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched a mobile application called “Delhi Corona” that would have information about Covid-19 beds and ventilators occupied and vacant in public as well as private hospitals across the Capital. According to the government’s press release, the information on the app is updated twice a day. If hospital authorities refuse to admit patients despite availablity being shown on the app, patients can call a helpline at 1031.
However, several Delhi residents say that the figures for bed availability do not tally with the information they are being given by hospital authorities.
Kishore Kumar, a resident of Bengaluru, said that his 55-year-old father in West Delhi’s Paschim Vihar tested positive for the virus on May 29. Kumar called up Lady Hardinge Hospital, which told them that a bed was available after which his father was admitted later that day. Kumar said his father’s condition deteriorated on June 3 as his oxygen levels dropped and the hospital had put him on a ventilator.
Later that day, Kumar considered moving his father to Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. The authorities there told them that there were beds vacant and that they would admit his father if necessary.
But doctors at Lady Hardinge advised Kumar not to transfer his father to Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital because patients from there were actually being transferred to their hospital.
“My brother confirmed with some other patients who had come from RML.” Kumar said. “They told him that there were no beds...I do not know how aware is the CMO [chief medical officer] at RML about beds because they are referring patients to other hospitals.”
On June 3, Kumar checked the Delhi Corona app for vacant beds at private hospitals like Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. “It showed that two beds were available but when I called them they said that beds were full,” he said.
He also checked the status of beds at Dr BL Kapur Memorial Hospital, RLKC Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, and Saroj Super Specialty Hospital in North West Delhi’s Rohini.
On the app, all three hospitals listed above showed that beds were available, he said. But when he called up the establishment, authorities in each of the three hospitals told him that they were fully occupied.
“In the app, Saroj hospital says that occupancy is zero but when I called them up they said they were still setting it up and it may take one or two more weeks,” Kumar said. “A lot of smaller hospitals are listed in the app but they are not ready yet. The whole condition is messed up.”
Scroll.in sent queries to the Delhi government’s spokesperson regarding this mismatch but is yet to receive a response.
Several Delhi residents, including Kumar, took to social media to express their concern over their family members not being able to access beds.
‘Condition is very bad’
On the evening of June 3, a 49-year-old diabetic man started to feel breathless and was taken to North West Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital, said a relative, who requested anonymity. The hospital told him that they did not have any beds available.
The patient, who lives in West Delhi’s Paschim Vihar, was then taken to Saroj Super Specialty Hospital in Rohini after his brother-in-law checked the Delhi Corona app which stated that beds were available. But they refused to admit the patient and said that they did not have any beds available, said the relative, who lives in North West Delhi’s Pitampura.
The relative took the patient to Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute at around 9 pm after it showed a vacancy in beds, but the authorities there said they did not have a bed available either. The hospital authorities however took the patient to their emergency ward and started to treat him with oxygen, the relative said.
At around midnight, the relative called the Delhi government-run Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, and privately-run St Stephens Hospital and Khetarpal Nursing Home in Rajouri Garden after the app showed an availability of beds. But officials at all three hospitals that there were no beds available.
“They all said that no beds were available and that the app was not updated,” the relative said. “We were not able to get an ambulance also.”
The relative claimed they repeatedly called on 1031 but no one picked up. “The condition is very bad,” he said.
The patient, the relative said, tested positive for Covid-19 on June 4 and has since been admitted to Sri Action Balaji Hospital. The relative said they paid the hospital Rs 27,000 for the patient’s treatment.
“We told them that we would not be able to take him anywhere else till we could find a bed and they tested him and admitted him there itself,” the relative said.
Change in testing strategy
The lack of hospital beds isn’t the city’s only problem. As the number of cases increases, the Delhi government on June 2 issued new guidelines limiting who can get tested for Covid-19. According to the order, the new testing strategy excludes asymptomatic patients from being tested except for those who have comorbidities or are senior citizens, These people will be tested once between day five and day 10 of having come in contact with an infected person.
This also means that family members who may have come into contact with a patient will not be tested.
Inder Bajaj’s mother had been feeling unwell for a few days and Bajaj said he contacted several private laboratories across the city on June 3 to ask for testing details, including Dr Lal Pathlabs, but he was told that they were not conducting Covid tests, he claimed.
“They said that only government hospitals were doing it,” Bajaj said. “Other labs had told me to wait for four to five days and wait another three days for results. How do we get people admitted if we cannot conduct tests?”
Meanwhile, Bajaj said that his mother was finally admitted to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital at around 10.30 pm on June 4 after he contacted AAP MLA Dilip Pandey on social media. This time, the hospital did not ask for his mother’s Covid-19 test results, he said.