When Duty Takes a Toll: Without Proper Facilities and PPEs, Delhi's Nurses Fight Coronavirus with Apathy

A nurse on duty in the COVID-19 ward of LNJP Hospital. (News18)

A nurse on duty in the COVID-19 ward of LNJP Hospital. (News18)

About 21 nursing staff have already contracted the infection in the national capital, of whom 13 are from the Delhi State Cancer Institute alone. An assistant nursing superintendent at the LNJP Hospital became the latest health worker to test positive for COVID-19.


Nikhil Ghanekar

New Delhi: For nurses working in wards of Delhi's designated COVID-19 hospitals, it is a tightrope walk between performing their duty efficiently and trying to protect themselves from the high risk of getting infected.

About 21 nursing staff have already contracted the infection in the national capital, of whom 13 are from the Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI) alone. An assistant nursing superintendent at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital has become the latest healthcare worker in the capital to test positive for COVID-19, according to sources in the hospital.

Nursing staff and allied healthcare workers and doctors are facing an uphill task trying to protect themselves from coronavirus.

When News18 spoke to nurses’ union, its members and resident doctors, all of them had one issue in common. “We are prepared to fight it out, but cannot do the same without proper tools and weapons,” they said.

Lack of sufficient and quality personal protection equipment (PPE) kits, long working hours, and shoddy and unhygienic accommodations for quarantined nursing staff were some of the most acute problems faced by the nursing staff and doctors.

A senior nursing officer from LNJP Hospital, who spoke to News18 on the condition of anonymity, said, “The nursing staff assigned duty in the COVID-19 ward are working in three shifts; morning, evening and night. As per the guidelines of the hospital infection control committee, each shift has to last only four hours. However, nurses are working six hours each during morning and evening shifts and 12 hours during the night shift.”

“We are receiving PPE kit supplies for a week or a month and we have been asked to ration it for that entire period among on-duty nurses. Since there is paucity of these kits, one out of three nurses on a shift gets to use the complete kit, while others have to make do with the usual gowns and masks. During the night shift, nurses are wearing the PPE kit for 12-hour straight. It is suffocating.”

The nursing staff of LNJP Hospital protested on Thursday and Friday against the paucity of PPE kits and alleged pathetic accommodation facilities provided to nurses who have completed their COVID-19 ward duties. The Delhi government has given doctors from LNJP the option of staying at the 5-starred Lalit Hotel, while the nursing staff who are either treating patients or who are quarantined have to stay at the Dental hospital inside the hospital's premises.

“There is one common washroom for everyone at the facility. The beds are not arranged as per social distancing norms,” another nurse said on the condition of anonymity.

As on April 10, 602 people were admitted in the LNJP’s coronavirus ward. Of these, 236 were positive cases and seven were on ventilator support.

The medical director of LNJP could not be reached for a comment.

Rince Joseph, working president of the United Nurses Association, said nurses are facing hardships trying to keep themselves and their families free of the coronavirus infection.

Joseph said one of the nurses who tested positive for Covid-19 at DSCI is pregnant. The others admitted at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital are struggling to get quality food.

“How can people expect us to work on ground without protection? Everyone is ready to work on the frontline, but we need to have PPE kits. Nurses have tested positive for COVID-19 in some hospitals. They are going back to their families with kids at home. We have to also earn our bread,” Joseph said.

“The cleaners and nurses not working in coronavirus ward nurses don't even get any PPE, in both public and private hospitals,” he said.

When asked about the cases among its nursing staff, DSCI director Dr BL Sherwal said, “Our hospital is not a designated COVID-19 hospital, but 21 of our staff members have tested positive. We are examining how exactly our doctors got affected. We are trying to ascertain if anyone met with a person who had a history of travel.”

Resident doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Science have been meeting the administration every day to put forth their demands on PPE.

“The quality is not up to the mark and we have to tape the suit and make it into a makeshift coverall. We have been asked to reuse the mask. We don't have proper hazmat suits. Many are using kits used to treat HIV patients. How can that serve the purpose to fight respiratory disease?” said Dr Srinivas Rajkumar, general secretary of AIIMS Resident Doctors Association.

AIIMS Medical Superintendent Dr DK Sharma did not respond to calls or text messages seeking a comment on the matter.

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