By Saloni Bhatia New Delhi, Jul 28 With the incidence of coronavirus in the national capital appearing to show a declining trend and many beds empty, several private hospitals are citing mounting losses to urge the Delhi government to reconvert some COVID-19 facilities and allow more non-COVID services.
According to the Delhi Corona app, only 2,783 beds of the 15,438 dedicated beds for coronavirus patients across private and government hospitals in the national capital are occupied. Many hospitals said more than half their dedicated COVID-19 beds are vacant as a large number of coronavirus positive patients are under home isolation.
At the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, which has 650 COVID-19 beds, 551 are unoccupied. The scene is similar in other hospitals too. At the Batra and Venkateshwar hospitals, which have 502 and 439 beds, 465 and 397 beds are vacant.
Similarly, the Shalimar Bagh and Saket branches of Max Hospital have 350 and 216 beds, of which 220 and 162 beds are unoccupied. A spokesperson of Fortis Healthcare, which operates in the Delhi-NCR region, said there is a gradual decline in hospitalisation cases and many of its hospitals are presently functioning as full or hybrid COVID facilities.
The spokesperson said other surgeries and treatments, barring very critical ones, have largely been put on hold and the occupancy of non-COVID beds is on the lower side. "It is important that hospitals function at the optimum capacity now and we request the Delhi government to allow elective surgeries and non-COVID services to resume at all hospitals," the spokesperson said.
According to K K Sethi, chairperson of the Delhi Heart and Lung Institute (DHLI), an entire floor has been dedicated to COVID-19 but many beds are unoccupied. Moreover, patients with other problems are not coming due to the fear of contracting the virus.
"We are a speciality hospital and patients are not coming for angioplasty or specific treatments because of the stigma attached (to COVID-19)," Sethi said. This is leading to losses and operational costs have also shot up considerably, he said.
"We are just borrowing from the bank and it's (loan) coming to crores of rupees now," he said. Kousar A Shah, chief operating officer, Aakash Healthcare and Super Speciality Hospital, Dwarka, said the hospital had more than 60 COVID-19 patients on July 6. By July 27, the number had gone down to 34.
Shah said the hospital is constantly losing patients. "Patients do not come to the hospital and keep waiting at home. Due to this, some patients have landed in dire emergency and it became a matter of life and death. Family members say they were scared to come to the hospital since it's a COVID facility," Shah said.
Hospitals also blamed capped rates for their losses. The Delhi government last month issued an order fixing the cost of a COVID-19 isolation bed in any private hospital in the city in the range of Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 and an ICU bed with ventilator at Rs 15,000-Rs 18,000 per day.
Chander Prakash, president of the Delhi Voluntary Hospital Forum, claimed hospitals are going bankrupt due to capped rates and absence of non-COVID patients. He said government hospitals have vacant beds and the government should think of improving the facilities there rather than putting pressures on private facilities.
Mahesh Verma, the head of a Delhi government panel tasked with strengthening the preparedness of hospitals to battle coronavirus, said, "Only those who require critical care are coming. I have visited private hospitals and many beds are empty. They were actually saying that we should convert earmarked COVID beds into non-COVID beds but we have to wait for some time before we do that." Last month, Delhi saw a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and many people succumbed to the infection as they were unable to get a hospital bed.
The panel headed by Verma had projected that Delhi would see 5.5 lakh coronavirus cases by the end of July which had necessitated the need for increasing the bed strength. Some private hospitals were either converted to COVID-19 hospitals while a percentage of beds were earmarked for COVID-19 patients.
But the situation has seen a significant improvement in the last four weeks. Delhi's COVID-19 positivity rate has dropped to nearly 5 per cent and its recovery rate, which was around 36 per cent a month back, has improved to 88 per cent. The death rate has also come down. On Monday, the national capital recorded 613 fresh of coronavirus cases, the lowest in the last two months, taking the tally to 1,31,219. However, this decline also coincided with fewer tests at 11,506.
As the situation shows an improvement, some suggested the government can have one dedicated COVID hospital in an area. For instance, Dwarka has three big hospitals, so the government can think of naming one as a COVID positive hospital, Shah said.
"Since the decline is being seen, instead of all of us putting efforts into dividing patients between COVID and non-COVID, only one hospital can do that. It can also be done by rotation. For one month, one can do it and after five-six days, another hospital can take over," he added. Rajesh Chawla, senior consultant, respiratory and critical care medicine, Apollo Hospitals, said the government need not hurry and can assess the situation and then take a decision.
After that the hospitals can be given the freedom to decide how they want to go about it, he said. Sethi said even if the government converts COVID facilities into non-COVID ones, it will take at least three months to convince the patients to return.