- Only 4% of the respondents got an COVID ICU bed through a routine process
- 38 per cent had to use clout or connections for getting critical care
- 7 per cent of the respondents admitted giving bribe to get COVID ICU bed
New Delhi: India has been recording an average of 90,000 cases daily and the COVID-19 tally has crossed 60 lakh mark. Currently, India has close to 10 lakh active cases and has reported around 1 lakh fatalities. With the continuous rise in the number of cases, the need for medical care and treatment has also increased. Many state governments like Delhi are advocating home quarantine for asymptomatic COVID-19 patients so that the healthcare system is not stretched and can look after critically ill patients. But the issue of healthcare infrastructure still looms large and finding an ICU bed is a task in itself, reveals a recent survey.
According to a survey conducted by LocalCircles, which claims to be India’s leading independent community engagement and social media platform, on access to COVID ICU beds in India, only 4 per cent of the respondents who needed a COVID ICU bed were able to get one through the routine process whereas 78 per cent had to use contacts and clout.
The online survey conducted by LocalCircles between September 7 and September 16 received over 18,000 responses from citizens located in 211 districts of 14 states. Over 3,000 people from Delhi participated in the survey, followed by around 2,500 from Maharashtra, and 2,000 each in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Currently, these states are among the worst affected states by the Coronavirus pandemic.
65 per cent of respondents were men and 35 per cent were women. 52 per cent of the respondents were from tier 1 cities, 26 per cent from tier 2, 22 per cent from tier 3, tier 4 and rural districts.
As part of the survey, two questions were asked; firstly, what has been the experience of people in your social network in getting a COVID-19 ICU bed?
The analysis of the survey reveals that 38 per cent of the respondents had to use clout or connections while 7 per cent had to follow up extensively to secure the ICU bed. 40 per cent of the respondents said that they had to use both clout or connections, follow up extensively and even escalate via social media or complain to the government to secure an ICU bed. 4 per cent of the respondents had to bribe the hospital or government to get an ICU bed.
NDTV spoke to Sachin Taparia, Chairman, LocalCircles to understand the findings and the issues raised by respondents. Mr Taparia said,
The key finding of our survey is that it is not easy to get an ICU bed. For example, in Delhi, as of the last weekend, there was not a single ICU bed available in any of the major private hospitals while the Delhi government hospitals still had some availability. The key issue that people are raising is that there is a set of people who through their contacts are able to find a bed. They might not be severely symptomatic but because they have contacts, connections and clout, they are able to occupy a bed which ideally should go to a common man who is severely symptomatic.
On Wednesday (September 23), Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain also said that there is a shortage of private hospital beds in the national capital especially in ICUs. As quoted by news agency ANI, Mr Jain said,
Out of 15,804 beds in Delhi hospitals, 7,051 beds are occupied at present. However, we are facing a problem as there is a shortage of beds, especially in ICUs, in some private hospitals, as people from outside Delhi prefer specific hospitals for treatment.
The second question asked by LocalCircles was ‘should it be made mandatory for all hospitals to list on their websites and entrances the real time ICU bed availability?’ 92 per cent of the respondents answered in the favour of the question.
On September 18, our team randomly contacted some private hospitals in Delhi to find out the status of ICU beds. While the government app showed the availability of beds, the hospital administration clearly denied the status. When we poked them and confronted them about the status on the app, while some said, the data will be updated at a particular time, another hospital told us that those were neonatal ICU beds and COVID ICU beds weren’t available. There is a lack of information transparency at least timely information transparency and that is leading to some of the shortage. Also, if some beds are marked for children, it should be clearly stated instead of simply putting the bed tally under an umbrella term, said Mr Taparia.
Mr Taparia also said that updating the status of beds once in a day can have adverse effects especially when it comes to treating serious COVID patients. For instance, a bed has been made available at 10 am but the data gets updated at 10 pm. Delay in update means a delay in treatment and by that time, a patient’s condition might deteriorate. Hence, real time transparency is required.
Mr Taparia also noted that some COVID ICU beds are available in jumbo facilities and added,
Anyone with severe symptoms of COVID would prefer a decent hospital than jumbo facilities. People prefer going to private hospitals because there is a higher degree of confidence. And if today we are facing this problem then what will happen in the upcoming festive season? Are we as a nation prepared?
NDTV spoke to Dr Hemant Deshmukh, Dean, KEM Hospital in Mumbai who was surprised and shocked by the findings of the survey. He said that the hospital infrastructure in Mumbai is completely different from that in Delhi and added,
Mumbai is dominated by the major hospitals which are predominantly municipal corporation hospitals whereas Delhi has private hospitals which operate and admit COVID patients. The hospital infrastructure in Mumbai is such that the entire COVID intricacies are being managed by the corporation through a dashboard available in each of the 24 municipal wards. We have ward level war rooms where bed vacancy is displayed digitally.
According to Dr Deshmukh, whenever the municipal corporation received a COVID positive report, the first call goes to the patient followed by an interview of the patient or the family by the doctor. If the doctor feels that the patient needs admission then he/she is directed to the nearest COVID dedicated hospital. Mr Deshmukh believes that the clear process is the reason Mumbai still has 30 per cent of over 14,500 COVID beds vacant.
LocalCircles has written to the Ministry of Health, and chief secretaries, requesting them to make the information related to beds transparent and real time.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.