Kolkata: About 40 healthcare workers, including interns, were exposed to a suspected Covid-19 patient in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department but the head of the department allegedly refused to follow guidelines and agreed to run tests only after three days. The woman was admitted in the hospital on April 8 and started showing symptoms the next day. She was tested positive on April 12.
The interns protested till April 15 after which swabs were collected on April 16-17. The test results came on Monday.
“Though the Medicine Department arranged for immediate quarantine of the staff exposed to the patient, it was the gynaecology department that did not follow guidelines,” said an intern on condition of anonymity.
“He told us ‘not everyone needs to go for test and you can go into home quarantine. There will not be any separate quarantine facility for you. If you get symptoms then inform us and we will run the test. Not all who were exposed (to the infected patient) need to go for test’,” the intern quoted the senior doctor, Dr Partha Mukherjee, as saying.
It took Mukherjee days of protests and pressure from the interns to change his mind.
The incident has not only enraged the young doctors but also made them apprehensive about the working conditions in the hospital.
In a press statement on Monday, the MBBS interns expressed their grievances and listed their demands. “Three shifts of healthcare workers, including interns, were exposed to a COVID suspect patient without any adequate protection (i.e. N95 masks, as per guidelines) in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Following this exposure, the authority denied quarantine facilities and testing of these contacts by framing medically incorrect case and primary contact definitions,” the statement pointed out.
“On the contrary the authority asked the above mentioned contacts to resume work which facilitated the secondary exposure of interns in the hostel and family members of the health workers commuting from home. Labour room and other contaminated areas of Eden Hospital were not properly fumigated as per guidelines and were functional that added to the spread of infection. The above incident was falsely reported by local media where in it was quoted that 50 health workers have been quarantined,” it said, adding that after a delay of one week, it was agreed that the primary contacts would be tested and quarantined.
However, the interns alleged that the quarantine facilities are not as per the guidelines and four contacts were isolated in a room with a common toilet, “thus defeating the entire purpose of this exercise”.
Some interns chose self-quarantine in their hostel rooms, which “Was shown in a different light in the media because the authority wanted to conceal its mistake”.
“Some of these interns have already tested positive and many others are to be retested in lieu of inconclusive reports. Overall throughout the departments in Medical College, Kolkata, there have been multiple incidents where the authority has caused bureaucratic delays in testing of suspects and at times non testing of suspects leading to exposure of a large number of interns and health workers. This breach in the national protocols in dealing with the COVID suspects has lead to the fear of local spread among the health workers of the college,” the interns said.
The healthcare staff are already exposed to the virus in absence of N95 masks and the lackadaisical approach to a serious crisis is only making it worse for the frontline workers.
When contacted Mukherjee said he has nothing to say about it and the medical superintendent is the right person for all information.
The interns are now demanding trying of all health workers, both primary and secondary contacts, and irrespective of symptoms or travel history because the eight doctors from Medical College who have tested positive are asymptomatic.
The interns also want proper quarantine with one room and one toilet per person, proper care of all positive cases of healthcare workers, testing of all suspected patients, N95 masks for all health workers, accommodation of all healthcare workers within or near campus to avoid spread in family and community, and last and most importantly, assurance of the authority concerned to act fast and with compassion instead of unnecessary delay in handling Covid-19 suspect cases.
The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Jayanta Biswas, said there was no delay in quarantining the staff. “There are so many patients. Even I have the maximum exposure. There are guidelines which we have to follow. Those who worked for 15 minutes at 1 m distance they were first quarantined.”
He explained that not all patients are admitted with infection and some may show symptoms after a few days. “In that case we have to run tests and then shift the patient,” he added.
When asked how many staffs have been quarantined currently, Biswas said there are many and tests are being conducted in phases.
Meanwhile, a meeting was held on Tuesday involving the members of the college council and DME where it was decided that the intern doctor who is in general isolation in MR Bangur will be shifted to a cabin in IDBG Hospital. It was also decided that all quarantine centres will have one person per room with attached toilet and all interns quarantined in Ananda Bhavan Hotel will be shifted to rooms with the necessary facilities.
“All primary and secondary contacts of previous positive cases are being actively traced and quarantined and will be tested. Henceforth, disease control team will be set up to control such future outbreaks,” were among the other decisions.
The meeting also concluded that Eden Hospital took all measures and ensured proper fumigation.