First of all, I want to thank Hon’ble Supreme Court judges Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Sanjay Kaul and Justice M R Shah for realizing the acute trauma of COVID patients in hospitals. The learned judges themselves said they felt sad while watching “horrible”, “pathetic” videos of patients lying among dead bodies in Delhi’s LNJP hospital on India TV. “We are more concerned with the living than the dead. Look at the pathetic conditions in the hospitals. Bodies are there in the ward where patients are getting treated. The undignified manner in which bodies are handled, dumped. They are being treated worse than animals”, were the observations from the bench.
The bench also said: “Patients are in the wards and dead bodies are also in the same wards. Dead bodies are seen also in the lobby and waiting area. Patients were not supplied with any oxygen support or any other support, no saline drips were shown with the beds and there was no one to attend to the patients. Patients are crying and there is no one to attend to them.”
The bench then observed: “This is the condition of a government hospital of Delhi, which has a capacity of 2,000 beds. As per the government app, only 870 beds were occupied in LNJP hospital as on June 11. The government app itself gives details of beds occupied in government and private hospitals in Delhi. In government hospitals, the number of beds is 5,814, out of which 2.620 are occupied.”
The first lines in the apex court order made mention of India TV videos that were telecast on Wednesday night in our prime time show “Aaj Ki Baat”.
The apex court ordered the chief secretary of Delhi government “to immediately take appropriate notice of the status of patients’ management in government hospitals..and take remedial action. Status reports with regard to government hospitals, patient care and details of staff, infrastructure etc. should be brought before the court so that appropriate directions can be issued on the next date of hearing.” The court has asked for the status report by Wednesday. A separate notice was issued to LNJP hospital.
The Supreme Court also observed: ‘Reports indicate that patients are running from pillar to post to get admission whereas a large number of beds are lying vacant in government hospitals…Close relatives of patients are not informed for several days about cremation, due to which families are not even able to attend their last rites.”
The bench asked: “..And why is testing so low in Delhi? Mumbai and Chenna are testing 16,000 to 17,000 whereas, in Delhi, it is falling below 7,000. Media has highlighted this issue.” The apex court also issued notices to chief secretaries of Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal governments in this matter.
Reading the observations by SC judges, I felt some sense of relief. The apex court order raised hopes that patients may now survive the ordeal in hospitals. I expect patients will no more have to live with dead bodies inside the same ward. The SC order at least gives a ray of hope to expect that at least on some level, the cry of the living dead is being heard.
No evidence, no excuses or justifications or obfuscations are required after watching the videos showing “deplorable” conditions in hospitals. It is gratifying that the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of India TV report along with other media reports and directed the governments to respond. During Friday’s hearing, the learned judges often mentioned the videos shown in ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on June 10 at 9 pm.
When the court sought the opinion of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on India TV videos, he said, the visuals were indeed horrifying and shocking. The court then asked, how such negligence could happen in government hospitals because the videos clearly show that patients were dying and there was nobody to help them.
Justice Shah said with the rising spread of Coronavirus, the need for more health infrastructure has increased, beds and doctors are needed, but the government has not come up with any such thing. He described as a shocking failure of the health care system.
Justice Kaul said, the videos shown on India TV clearly reflect the ground realities. He said, for God’s sake, watch the deplorable conditions of the patients, dead bodies are lying in wards, the court is more worried about patients who are alive, but when we find the undignified manner in which bodies are being handled, what will happen to patients who are alive? The judge said videos shown on India TV leave no one in doubt that that the situation is deteriorating in Delhi. He said, conditions in Delhi government hospitals are pathetic, horrible and horrendous.
I have doubts whether the authorities in LNJP hospital have read the government’s guidelines for the disposal of bodies. They might not be knowing how to take care of the body, once a patient dies of COVID. It was because of this that bodies were lying around inside the wards and in the passages and waiting area.
Let me narrate some of the points in the guidelines which health care workers are expected to follow while handling the dead body of a COVID patient.
First of all, they have to follow standard infection prevention control practice, which says that when a COVID patient dies, his body has to be cleared from the ward within half an hour, the close relatives of the patient must be informed, the bed on which the patient had slept must be disinfected, other implements and PPE kits must be sanitized, the body has to be sanitized with 1 per cent Hypochlorite solution and packed inside a leak-proof bag, the body must be kept inside the mortuary at 4 degree Celsius, and during last rites, a limited number of relatives be allowed to have a last look at the deceased, and the final rites must be completed with full precautions. The guidelines minutely detail the standard procedure for handling of bodies.
But the videos that we showed and which were seen by the learned SC judges clearly reflect that these guidelines were completely cast aside. Forget standard precautions, there was nobody to remove the dead bodies lying inside the ward and in the waiting area.
While in the afternoon, there was good news from the Supreme Court, there was one piece of bad news by the evening. I had expected that the LNJP hospital authorities would take immediate steps to improve the care of their remaining patients, arrange oxygen, provide them with medicines and food, but I was wrong.
The government did nothing for 36 hours after the videos were televised, and the result was: a 23-year-old young man Rajesh Singh Rawat, who was shown alive in the video, died on Friday. This is a black spot on our health care system. This young man was killed by our health care system. The brother of the dead COVID patient told India TV reporter Deeksha Pandey outside LNJP hospital that he had come to take his body. The young man was seen in Wednesday’s video as sitting on a bed, a few feet away from where a nude body lay under another bed. He was not in good condition at that time, but he was not suffering from acute breathing trouble either. Whatever Rajesh’s brother said can make any sensible person cry.
I am at a loss of words when I listen to relatives of COVID patients who lost their lives due to a callous and insensitive health care system. How can a common man trust such hospitals which are nothing but dungeons and hell holes?
The Delhi government issued a statement on the Supreme Court’s order in the evening. It said, COVID pandemic was an “extraordinary” situation and it was trying its best to set up the better infrastructure and provide quality health care to all patients. The state government said, it accepts the SC’s observation with “utmost respect” and “absolute sincerity” and was prepared to plug any gaps brought to its notice. It claimed that an NHRC team has expressed “satisfaction” with the facilities at LNJP hospital.
Delhi government may shrug off the tongue lashing that it got from Supreme Court, but both the government and LNJP hospital will have to give explanations to the apex court by June 17. It will now be up to the apex court whether it accepts their explanations as satisfactory or not.
Normally matter of law are discussed inside courts, but it is the nation that ultimately runs on popular sentiments. The common man views from his own prism the harsh realities that are prevalent in hospitals. In Hindi, there is a famous couplet from Kabir: “दुर्बल को ना सताइये, जाकी मोटी हाय | बिना साँस की चाम से, लोह भसम होई जाय ||” (Do not oppress the poor, its curse can destroy, like leather that can inflame a fire to melt iron to ashes)
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