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'Inhumane to reserve ICU beds for COVID patients when cases going down'

Inhumane to reserve ICU beds for COVID patients when cases going down
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New Delhi: Taking note of the reduction in COVID-19 infection levels in the city, the Delhi High Court on Thursday said that Delhi government's decision to reserve 80 per cent of the ICU beds in 33 private hospitals for COVID-19 patients is "inhumane" and "not sustainable" while adding that "there is no need" to continue the same.

During the hearing before a single-judge bench of Justice Navin Chawla, the Delhi government, represented by Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, told the court that an expert committee formulated for the de-escalation of COVID-19 beds has recommended that the reservation will be reduced from the existing 80 per cent to 60 per cent in view of the declining trend in cases. However, reserved beds in Delhi and Central government hospitals will continue to remain the same, he told the court.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Association of Healthcare Providers, represented by Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, which challenged Delhi government's September 12 decision to reserve 80 per cent of all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients in the city's 33 private hospitals.

As per minutes of the meeting held on December 23 to recommend the de-escalation of reserved beds, "it was found that there was a significant decline in the number of COVID-19 cases admitted in the hospital from 6,023 on December 7 to 2,866 on December 23, a fall of 52.4%".

"The COVID-19 bed occupancy on December 23 is 2,866 out of a total of 18,779 and the COVID-19 ICU bed occupancy is 1,319 out of a total of 5,100," the minutes of the meeting stated.

The expert committee of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) further unanimously agreed that "in the backdrop of the current declining trend of occupancy among all categories of beds, i.e., Oxygenated, ICU, Ventilator COVID-19 beds, the de-escalation may be carried out in a graded manner both in Delhi government and private sector hospitals".

The court was also informed that the committee has recommended that the 60 per cent reservation COVID-19 beds in all private hospitals should be de-escalated to 45 per cent, making 55 per cent beds in private hospitals available for non-COVID-19 patients.

The committee also recommended that "the de-escalation plan shall be reversible and the non-COVID-19 beds shall be converted to COVID-19 beds in case of any such need across the state". "The committee will also re-visit the recommendations after 10 days to assess the impact and will strategize new recommendations accordingly for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 medical services, if required in light of the emerging situation".

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Singh, on behalf of the petitioner, told the court that the decision was "irrational" and "populist" in nature, alleging that the private hospitals were being deprived of financial resources. "You are not providing any compensation to the private sector," he submitted.

Meanwhile, ASG Jain, assured the court that a Delhi government meeting is to be held on December 26 which will include three experts who will deliberate on the recommendations made by the expert committee.

"My view is that there is no need for reservation. In case the numbers increase, we will allow it (reservations) again," Justice Chawla remarked. Recording Singh's note provided to the court which consists of the data related to declining infection levels, the court said "it would be important material to be considered by the Delhi government at the time of taking decision" and posted the matter for December 28.

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