NEW DELHI: Doctors in West Bengal have raised concerns about the way the entire coronavirus crisis is being handled by the Bengal administration.

 Doctors say that the lack of testing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), the non segregation of suspect and positive Covid-19 patients from the general patients in hospitals and the absence of real-time data on Covid-19 patients, are likely to cost the state heavily.   The West Bengal Doctors’ Forum has also written a letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, seeking intervention to address these issues at the earliest.
In its 10-point letter of demands to Banerjee, who is also the health minister of Bengal, the Doctors’ Forum has urged that suspect and Covid positive patients be contained to Covid hospitals only.  Currently in West Bengal, Covid positive and suspect patients are being kept in the same hospital as with general patients, and this in the last few weeks has led to rising risk to doctors as well as general patients.
In the last three days, at least 137 medical staff, including doctors, nurses and para- medical staff have been sent to quarantine in Kolkata. These medical staff have been treating suspected Covid-19 patients without proper PPE equipment and protection and these suspects later turned to be positive patients.
These doctors were from Kolkata’s largest government medical hospitals, which include the NRS Medical College and Hospital, National Medical College Hospital and Medical College Hospital in Kolkata.
The Doctors’ Forum has also urged Chief Minister Banerjee to increase testing in the state, along with providing good quality PPEs for all healthcare workers.  Dr Arjun Dasgupta, president of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum, told The Sunday Guardian, “We have made our demands that testing should be ramped up in the state. There are few hospitals and laboratories where tests are being done currently in Bengal; the whole bureaucracy and administration should work in ramping up testing. We are also going to demand that all healthcare workers should also be tested, irrespective of their contact, because we have seen how 1/3rd of the NHS staff had tested positive. As we are the frontline workers and meeting patients every day, we also need to be tested as we cannot be the ones infecting other patients.”
West Bengal is also one of the states testing the lowest number of cases. It is only in the last three days that the government has marginally increased testing in the state.
“Yes, the Bengal government has started increasing testing; but we need to increase more and more. We have heard stories that ICMR would be doing 1 lakh tests per day; that is good, but that needs to start. ICMR needs to give permissions to laboratories that can start testing now. We have testing kits and in West Bengal, I know that there are 40,000 testing kits available, so what are we waiting for?” Dr Dasgupta said.
The West Bengal government has also come under fire for the lack of “transparency” in revealing the number of Covid-19 patients and the number of deaths in the state.   The government has formed an expert committee of doctors which will ascertain whether the death of any patient who has lost life in the battle against coronavirus is due to Covid-19 or its co-morbidities.
However, many doctors in Bengal have raised alarm over the right being taken away from the treating doctor to issue a death certificate and mention the cause of the death in the certificate.  One senior doctor from West Bengal, who did not wish to be named, told this newspaper, “If a doctor can treat a patient and if a doctor can conduct a post-mortem, I think that doctor is also educated and knowledgeable enough to write the cause of death. The Bengal government is demoralising doctors in its bid to project Banerjee as the best Chief Minister and, in turn, jeopardising peoples’ lives.” The West Bengal Doctors’ Forum has also demanded that transparency be maintained in the number of Covid-19 patients and verifiable data be published.
Dr Dasgupta told this newspaper, “We have written to the government to collate all data and publish genuine and verifiable data everyday in a transparent manner so that people are aware of the situation. We have also asked the Bengal government to have a single portal to access all these data, but we have still not heard back about this from the government.”
The doctors have also raised concerns about the lack of PPEs for doctors in most of the hospitals across Bengal; due to this, many medical staff are putting their own lives at risk while treating suspect patients.
A doctor from a medical college in Kolkata said, “The government is not providing adequate PPEs to the staff, especially those who are treating suspect cases and when these suspect cases turn out positive, it is a chaos.  Many nurses and paramedics are scared to come to duty at night as there are not enough PPE kits; they are using plastics to cover their bodies.” The West Bengal government has said that they have requested the Central government to provide adequate PPEs to the state and that some have arrived and are being distributed and the rest will be distributed as soon as they arrive.
The Sunday Guardian had also sent an email to the Chief Minister’s office,
seeking a response on this report; however, no reply has been received from the CM’s office till the time of going to press.