Why a young Delhi doctor quit her job at a makeshift Covid-19 facility
On May 2, the central government decided to postpone entrance exams to postgraduate medical courses for four months to encourage recently graduated medical students to take on Covid-19 duties in hospitals.
The next day, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, run by the Delhi government, announced that it was looking to hire 146 young doctors to work at a makeshift 500-bed facility on Ramleela grounds. He said junior doctors would be hired on a contract “on a short-term and urgent basis initially for 89 days”.
Delhi had witnessed a Covid-19 tsunami in April that overwhelmed its healthcare systems, with patients dying at home and in hospital halls as they were unable to find vacant beds. To increase capacity, the Delhi government had started to set up makeshift facilities, but it also needed more doctors and health workers to keep them running.
A 23-year-old medical graduate in Delhi, who did not wish to be identified, decided to apply for the job. “The whole year has been so overwhelming for healthcare workers,” said the doctor who graduated in January from Maulana Azad Medical College. “Without a doubt, the only feeling that took over was to actively participate in this war on the virus and to help ease the burden on others.”
She was called in for a walk-in interview on May 9, which barely lasted a few minutes. She was informed on the spot that she had been selected for the job which would earn her Rs 6,000 per eight hour shift. With her, 136 doctors were hired.
But barely ten days after their entry into service, on May 23, Guru Teg Bahadur hospital terminated the contracts of 31 junior resident doctors without giving any reasons. The enraged doctors questioned their summary dismissal, carried out without any prior warning.
“We got a message on our WhatApp group that our tasks were being disengaged,” said a 26-year-old doctor. “We are also doctors and we are also humans. Why did they hire us if they had to kick us out?
On May 27, after public outrage over the firing of the doctors, the hospital issued another order – this time, keeping the previous order “in abeyance.” Scroll.in asked by email to hospital medical director and Delhi government nodal officer. on the reasons for the sudden dismissal – and reinstatement – of the doctors. This article will be updated if they respond.
But while others were urged to leave, the 23-year-old resident doctor opted to resign on her own terms, just four days after taking the job. His experience suggests that the hospital’s harshness on health workers extended beyond the abrupt dismissals of young doctors.
‘Risking our lives’
The 23-year-old doctor’s first day of work took place on May 14. The makeshift facility received eight patients. Her eight-hour shift wasn’t particularly hard, she recalls.
But, she noticed that the donning and doffing area – separate spaces where health workers safely put on or take off their PPE kits and other protective gear – did not have partitions. Instead, the area was placed in front of a door through which medical staff, administrative staff and patients entered and exited, she said.
“So while someone is pulling out, simultaneously in that area, someone is putting on and it doesn’t make sense because while someone is removing the virus, someone else is taking it in the same room.” , said the doctor.
Worse yet, the PPE kits were of inferior quality, she claimed. “I was sweating and within 20 minutes the sweat was pouring out of the kit and that’s how I know it’s shoddy,” she said. “Most healthcare workers are unaware of this.”
The kits tore easily and were only available in one size sufficient to fit a person measuring five feet and two inches. Those who couldn’t fit into the kit were using polyethylene to get carried away, she said. “I’m five feet four inches tall and I just managed to fit in. I don’t know how the men got it because they are much taller.
The doctor was concerned about the lack of protection from the PPE kits – she lived with her elderly parents in central Delhi and did not want to take the virus home with her.
But while young doctors were given substandard PPE kits, nurses, who spent more time with patients, were not getting any at all – they were working in their scrubs, the doctor said. There were no soaps or hand sanitizers in the facility, no disposable cups for staff to drink water, and of the four toilets, at least two did not have a flush. functional water, she said.
“It was like an architectural plan that had just been presented, but nothing was functional,” she said.
Seeing the conditions at the facility, the doctor sent an email to authorities at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, detailing the gaps in safety measures for health workers.
“We are all risking our lives, and without any quarantine facilities, we fall back home every day, risking the lives of our elderly parents and society as well,” she said in the email sent on. May 15.
Two days later, she received a call from a consultant working as a senior resident at the facility, who gave her an ultimatum: “He said that I am rallying with the immediate effect of the state in which he is. find the center or I resign. “
On May 18, she resigned after the grievances were not addressed. “Their inability to comply with the WHO [World Health Organisation] the standard made me give up, ”she said. “The consultant told me that the installation would remain in the same condition.”
Questions emailed to hospital authorities about the doctor’s allegations went unanswered.
Before joining the GTB hospital establishment, the young doctor had spent the entire last year as an intern at another government-run hospital in Delhi – Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital.
The hospital was one of the first to be transformed into a dedicated Covid-19 facility during the national lockdown in March 2020. “We were the first group to see the change of hospital supported by the pandemic” , she said.
The first trainees reportedly gained more hands-on experience like surgeries and intubation, but that mostly stopped after the pandemic. “Our hospital was protecting the interns, they didn’t want us to jump into the red zone,” the 23-year-old said, referring to the area housing the Covid-19 wards and intensive care units. His work as an intern was limited to managing patient records or organizing blood. But she had learned how to safely put on and take off her PPE kit.
“This is how when I arrived at the facility, I knew what the proper procedure for donning and doffing was,” she said. “They [LNJP] followed all guidelines on this. They have a thick wall separating the two areas. “
But the facilities at the GTB center and the authorities’ lack of response to improve them did not encourage her to stay. “I really wanted to know more, but taking such a personal risk was not worth it,” she said.
It has been weeks since she quit and started preparing for her postgraduate exams. But she has yet to receive her pay for doing a shift. “I asked the consultants about this, but even they don’t know who I should talk to,” she said.
The 26-year-old junior resident, among those fired on May 23, recounted similar experiences – of having to use substandard PPE kits and reusing N95 masks because the facility didn’t had not enough.
But she decided to stay, despite frequent and erratic changes in her work schedules, the long taxi journey from South Delhi to the facility every day and the risk of infecting her parents she lived with. “To get exposure related to this area,” she says.
Some doctors had asked for their pay to be doubled for the night shift, which lasted 12 to 2 hours, but she was not one of them. She has no idea why she was disengaged on May 23. She pointed out that in the letter of offer issued by the hospital, it was stated that doctors could be disengaged at any time. The hospital “reserves the right to deactivate your service without giving any reason or giving notice,” the letter said.
For four days, the 26-year-old doctor was at home, unsure of what to do next. There was no one to answer his questions about his salary and reimbursements. Then, on May 27, the order to stop the disengagement of the 31 doctors was entered. Three days later, she returned to work, along with the other dismissed workers. This time, a pleasant surprise awaited them.
“I noticed that they took care of our complaints about the PPE and the mask,” she said. “It’s much better for us to work here now.”