At least 5,000 HCWs needed by end of June

New Delhi: With both the Centre and the Delhi government now going all hands-on deck with the COVID-19 situation in the Capital and dramatically increasing the number of hospital beds for Coronavirus patients, Delhi government estimates show that authorities here would have to scramble to get at least 5,000 additional healthcare workers (HCWs) by the end of June, to man the nearly 24,000 extra COVID-19 beds that will be added by that time.

While the Arvind Kejriwal-government and the Centre have started converting stadiums, banquet halls, schools and community centres; the major challenge remains to find these additional numbers of trained medical professionals who can tend to the patients who would be occupying these beds.

"Ideally you require one doctor for ten patients and one nurse for five to eight patients but given the circumstances, this ratio may vary," said an official from the Health Department. The official also told Millennium Post that the government is working on providing 24,000 beds by the end of June and around 1,50,000 beds will be required by the end of July.

For the 24,000 beds, there would be a requirement of around 2,000 doctors and 3,000 nurses at the very least. The challenge is not only getting doctors and nurses but recruiting the sufficient number of sanitation and other housekeeping staff, required for the maintenance and upkeep of these facilities, which is also being explored by the government, added the official.

President of the Delhi Medical Association (DMA), Dr Girish Tyagi said, "We are working with the Delhi government on providing additional healthcare workers. Our members have been encouraged to come forward and participate. Private clinic owners have also been asked to step in along with their staff." The makeshift hospitals are likely to be used by COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms who will

require constant monitoring. The plan is to train medical interns to check temperatures, look out for symptoms and update the doctor on duty, added Tyagi.

The Deputy Chief Minister has said the government is looking into hiring final year medical students and those who have completed their MBBS along with interns and dental students to fulfill their increasing demand for frontline workers. "Also, private healthcare professionals living in Delhi are being roped in," said the Deputy CM. Ayurvedic practitioners will likely be brought in as well, said an official from the health department.

"The DMA will train the interns and students for a brief period of time. We have also suggested that paramedics from neighbouring states should also be hired for a period of 15 to 30 days with incentives," added Tyagi. The Deputy CM pointed out that other states in the country are also in a similar crisis, and asking for their healthcare workers would not be feasible as of now.

Facing the heat

However, even with the added healthcare workers and the augmented COVID-19 facilities for patients, the weather in the Capital is fast proving to be the next big challenge for authorities here. Most additional beds being added in Delhi are either isolation facilities like the one at the South Delhi campus of the Radha Soami Sat Sang Beas or the ones in makeshift railway coaches.

As per the Central government's plan, at least 16,000 additional COVID-19 beds by end of June will be in isolation coaches and the South Delhi facility will house around 10,000 patients. Both centres, unfortunately, will not have air conditioning facilities and will be a nightmare for both patients and doctors in the scorching July heat, a point of concern, Sisodia said is being addressed at all possible levels.

While the Railways have said they are trying to insulate roofs of coaches that are not parked under sheds, doctors and healthcare workers will have to bear the brunt of Delhi's summer in PPE kit overalls while attending to patients in these facilities.

Additionally, the government has set up a helpline number — 08047192219 — where doctors wishing to volunteer for the government's COVID-19 telemedicine helpline have been asked to give a missed call to the number. "So far,

three people have signed up," Tyagi said.

"The shortage of staff is due to several reasons like number of cases rising, health care staff testing positive, fear among them and lack of lucrative incentives," said another Delhi government official on condition of anonymity. To add to the shortfall, several healthcare workers testing positive are going into quarantine on coming in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. This is still being worked out by the Health Department," added the official.

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