A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court raising concern over the safety of healthcare workers, including nurses and paramedical staffs, and has sought directions to authorities to provide proper protection kits to those working in COVID-19 wards or in close proximity of patients suspected to be infected with the deadly virus.
The application, filed by United Nurses Association, has sought permission to intervene in the matter relating to the treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of dead bodies in the hospitals in which the apex court has taken cognisance on its own.
The association has said in its application that healthcare workers are "at the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak response" and are exposed to hazards, including long working hours and psychological distress, that put them at risk of infection.
"The health and safety (physical/mental) of healthcare workers are of utmost importance because any further shortage of health care workers would result in thousands of unattended COVID-19 patients, which will have serious repercussions including escalation of the present situation and resultant impact on the economy, medical facilities, potential deaths and loss of human resource," the application said.
It alleged that during these "tiring and difficult times", some of the most pressing issues faced by healthcare workers across the country are -- non-availability of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) in numerous hospitals, non-availability of a sufficient number of COVID-19 testing kits, sub-standard PPEs, lack of basic facilities in isolation wards, non-payment of salaries and breach of government guidelines by some private hospitals.
The association has sought directions to the authorities to ensure that adequate and standard nutritious meals are provided to healthcare workers, and all nurses and other healthcare staff in COVID wards are provided with proper accommodation near the hospitals.
Besides seeking full and timely payment of salaries to healthcare workers employed in private hospitals, the association has also sought the apex court's direction to the authorities to provide free testing facility and treatment for them in case of COVID-19 infection while they are on duty.
It alleged that in most of the cases the complaints, made on the helpline numbers for redressal of grievances of healthcare workers, did not get any response in many states including Delhi and Maharashtra.
The apex court, while taking note of the reports of "horrific scenes" at Delhi's COVID-19 dedicated LNJP hospital where bodies were stacked next to coronavirus patients, had on June 12 said that it indicated the "sorry state of affairs" in government hospitals.
The top court, which has taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the issue, had directed Chief Secretaries of Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Gujarat to take "remedial action" ensuring proper management of patients at hospitals.
On the handling of the bodies of COVID-19 victims, the top court had said there was "no proper adherence to the guidelines" of the health ministry and the hospitals are not giving "due care and concern".