A short distance from the emergency area of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, scattered groups of people took shelter under trees, clutching their bags and other belongings around noon on Monday. These were people whose relatives had been admitted as Covid-19 patients in the hospital, located in North East Delhi’s Dilshad Garden.

Entry to Covid-19 hospital wards and isolation facilities is strictly barred, even to the families of the patients, to prevent the spread of infection. But those waiting outside the GTB hospital claimed that they regularly entered the wards to look after their relatives because hospital staffers were not available to attend to them. There was no one to give patients adequate water or meals on time, or even help those who were breathless to walk up to the washroom, they alleged.

“We sit [in the ward] for four to five hours,” said Vipin Shrivastav, whose brother-in-law was admitted to the hospital. “They [hospital staffers] do not touch [the patients]. They tell us to feed them, to take them to the bathroom. We have to do everything. We go every day.”

Several relatives waited at GTB Hospital.

Outside another Delhi government-run hospital, the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, waiting relatives said they were forced to walk into the wards to locate their relatives since there was no clear information provided to them. “They are just making us run around,” said Nitesh Singh whose father was admitted to the hospital. “There is so much negligence. The guard at the help desk is so rude he does not help us.”

On June 7, the Delhi government had passed an order mandating round-the-clock help desks at every hospital to help patients requiring admission. While there was no help desk in sight at the GTB hospital, the desk in LNJP hospital was left unmanned in the presence of this reporter.

Nitesh Singh burst into tears. “Nobody has helped me,” he said.

Nitesh Singh burst into tears while he narrated the ordeal of searching for his father at LNJP hospital.

‘They leave the food outside the ward’

East Delhi resident Baljeet Shah said he attended to his 55-year-old mother Urmila Devi for at least a week after she was admitted to GTB hospital on June 3. His mother felt breathless and nauseous, and needed oxygen when she was admitted, but apart from administering medical care, no hospital staffer was available to help her.

“I took her to the washroom,” he said. “I gave her food.”

Shah claimed that nurses on the night shift did not enter the wards. “The nurse comes at night but they do not enter because they said they need to wear the [protective personal equipment or PPE] kit,” he said. “Patients need oxygen at night and nurses do not come at night.”

Patients had to get up from their beds and walk to get their food, he alleged. “They [hospital staff] leave the food outside the ward,” Shah said. “Those who can get up will go but how will those on oxygen go to take food.”

Besides not having any help, the washrooms in the wards were not hygienic. “The tap of the washroom is broken,” he said. “I have complained three times.”

Shah said that hospital staffers were missing even after patients died. He claimed that while he attended to his mother on June 14, he sanitised the bed of a Covid patient who had died that day. The bed was next to his mother’s.

“The nurse told me that a ward boy would come after four hours,” he said. “But how can we wait for so long? My mother stood away from the beds but she needed oxygen. The bed was just kept like that.”

Shah said he moved the patient’s clothes to the side and sprayed sanitiser all over the bed to clean it.

Shah and other family members of patients said they were aware of the risks of entering Covid-19 wards but claimed that they had no other option. “It is a hospital, we are also at risk,” he said. “If the patient is fine then why would we wait? From outside it looks good, but from inside the condition is bad.”

Shah said no security staff or hospital staff stopped relatives from entering the wards.

Dr Sunil Kumar, the medical superintendent of GTB Hospital, told Scroll.in on Monday he would not be able answer queries over the phone regarding relatives attending to patients inside Covid-19 wards.

“You can come to us tomorrow. We will sort it out,” Kumar said. “We will go together to see who is entering and how they are entering. We will put it to test.”

Barricaded wards

A short distance away from the mortuary inside GTB Hospital, around 1 pm, a small crowd stood in front of barricades that had been placed outside a building where other Covid wards were situated.

The barricades had been installed barely two days ago, said Urmila, who was part of the crowd that had gathered next to it. For the past week, she came to the hospital daily with bags of food, clothes and water, and said she could enter the wards herself to attend to her father, Ram Palat, 62, a Covid-19 patient admitted there.

But on Monday, she had been waiting since 9 am and the security guards did not let her in. Hospital staffers had not come to collect the bags from her either, she said.

“My father cannot speak or understand,” she said. “He has had a brain stroke before.”

After a few minutes, a patient attendant came out of the building and said that there was an elderly patient who was not receiving care. “He is roaming around naked, he has soiled himself,” the attendant, a young woman, told the security guards.

The security guards asked the young woman to leave the premises but she refused and went back inside the building.

Urmila, fearing the patient was her father, requested one of the guards to allow her to enter the building. But he refused.

Pradeep Kumar, the security supervisor at the barricades said: “We cannot send anyone because if they go they will become corona patients. We have got orders that the public cannot go inside.”

The barricaded ward.

However, several among the crowd that waited outside the building told this reporter that this blockade was temporary.

“You stand here for two hours, the security guards will go and then you can enter yourself,” said Vipin Shrivastav, whose brother-in-law Praveen Shrivastav had been admitted in the ward as a Covid-19 patient on June 2.

Vipin Shrivastav sat on his motorbike on which a big carton of water bottles was placed. He intended to give it to his brother-in-law. “They [hospital staff] tell us that the patient needs to have at least five litres of water but they give them only two,” he said. “They do not get it on time either.”

Since his brother-in-law had been admitted, Vipin Shrivastav said that both he and his sister Tina Shrivastav had entered the ward several times to attend to him. He alleged they had to enter the ward because hospital staffers did not attend to patients.

“If they took proper care of him [Praveen Shrivastav], then we would be sitting at home and speaking to him over the phone,” he said.

Tina Shrivastav said that patients were only looked after by family members attending to them. “We agree that the virus will spread...but inside there is no one to take care of them,” she said.

Another relative, Nitin Singh, 24, said that he had regularly attended to his mother Ameeri Devi, 49, since she was admitted to the hospital on June 6. “Everyone is going,” he said. “No one says anything. I am scared to keep her here. I just want to get her out.”

Ameeri Devi had recovered from Covid-19 and was discharged on June 13, but she had been unable to leave from the ward, he said. He had requested the guard to allow him to enter the building but the guard refused.

“I do not know why they have not let her go. My mother cannot speak. They are not letting me enter to speak to the doctor,” Singh said, adding that he was adamant to get his mother out of the hospital.

“There is so much negligence here,” he said. “There is no water for patients. It is so hot. They just give them two bottles of one litre along with food. Today, they are not letting us send our bottles or enter.”

Vipin Shrivastav on his motorbike with a carton full of water bottles.

‘Nobody has helped me’

On the afternoon of June 14, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital in Old Delhi was nearly deserted. This hospital is also a dedicated Covid-19 facility. The white circles that marked on the floor to indicate how people should physical distance themselves lay unoccupied.

A small crowd gathered around a help desk that was situated in the emergency area. In a few minutes, the guard who manned the help desk got up to leave, claiming that his shift had finished.

But this still left the crowd anxious about their family members admitted in the hospital as Covid patients.

Nitesh Singh, 24, said he had come around 9 am to give food to his father Ramashankar Singh, 45, in the ward where he was admitted on the afternoon of June 13.

But he said that he could not find his father when he asked the hospital staff stationed outside the ward where he was admitted. He was also unaware of the results of his father’s Covid-19 test.

Ramashankar Singh had been admitted to Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital on the morning of June 13 after he showed symptoms of the virus such as fever, cough and breathlessness. The hospital tested him for the virus but referred him to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital on the same day before the results were declared, said Nitesh Singh.

On June 14, he searched endlessly for his father since 9 am and till 2 pm, he still did not have any information. Additionally, he said that the guards at the help desk did not have any information about his father.

“They told me he was in ward number 28. I went there but I was told that my father is in the surgical ward. When I went there they told me my father was not there,” Nitesh Singh said. “They told me to go to the help desk. These people [at the help desk] are telling me to check with the emergency ward.”

The officials at the emergency ward told Nitesh Singh that his father had been shifted from ward number 28. But they did not know where he was shifted to.

Around 5 pm that day, Singh finally found out that his father was located in ward number 29 after a hospital staffer told him that there was “upar-niche” when it came to admitting patients.

“When he told me that, then I found out the numbers of every ward from the reception and called them to ask if my father was admitted,” Nitesh Singh told Scroll.in over the phone later that day.

‘No information’

The help desk at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital did not seem to be of much help to other relatives either. On June 14, North East Delhi resident Saudan Sharma, 62, said that he too did get any information about his 50-year-old wife Shastri Sharma, a suspected Covid patient, from the help desk after he could not find her in the ward where she was admitted on June 13.

That day, he had reached the hospital at 9 am with food and water for his wife. But he could not find her at ward number 27, where she was initially admitted and kept looking for her till 2.30 pm.

“There is no information,” Sharma said. “I am so upset. I do not know where she is. If I knew it was like this then I would have kept her at home, at least if anything happened it would be in front of me.”

Around 4 pm, after making several rounds of the hospital, Saudan Sharma went to the reception at the emergency ward and was able to get details about his wife. He found out that she was shifted to ward number 29 and that doctors had conducted a Covid test on her.

Dr Suresh Kumar, the medical superintendent of LNJP Hospital told Scroll.in on Monday that the hospital had started providing help desks with a printed list of patients two to three days ago. “We give them a list daily,” he said. “Earlier they did not have it but now they can do it in a better way.”

This reporting was supported by a grant from the Thakur Family Foundation. Thakur Family Foundation has not exercised any editorial control over the contents of this article.