The Bombay High Court has directed the administration in Maharashtra – India’s worst-affected state in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic – to list admissions of COVID-19 patients since March amidst mounting concerns over bed shortages in the state.
Justices Zaka Haq and Anil Kilor issued the directive in the wake ofc a Times of India report headlined “Hard to get beds in DCHs [dedicated COVID hospitals] despite 46 percent occupancy”, which the division bench of the High Court reportedly took suo motu (on its own motion) cognisance of. That report prefaced its insight into bed shortages in DCHs with the disturbing finding that ““bed nahi hai” (There is no bed)…has become the stock reply from both government, trust-run and private DCHs in the city [of Nagpur] as well as the outskirts.”
The Times of India report went on to state that “critically-ill and those with mild to moderate symptoms are finding it extremely difficult to get a DCH bed unless their plea is backed by influential people. Government doctors agreed that they received at least fifty calls mainly from politicians for even asymptomatic patients. Others preferring private DCHs have to first show they can foot the bills.”
As Times News Network reports, the division bench of Justices Haq and Kilor “[censured the] Nagpur Municipal Corporation” and “appointed Shreerang Bhandarkar as amicus curiae [friend of the court]” to draft a public interest litigation following on from the Times of India report. As such, the state government has been directed “to provide a list of patients admitted in [the] city’s Government Medical Colleges and Hospitals (GMCHs) along with private hospitals from March.” The Nagpur Municipal Corporation has been instructed “to assist the government in preparing [the] list of patients”, which should be submitted before Wednesday, September 2nd.
“Though efforts taken by respondents in handling the situation can’t be disputed and need to be applauded, we feel that directives are needed to file a detailed list of patients admitted into all hospitals date wise from March,” the justices said.
Bed shortages have been a cause for concern throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in India, since its nascent stages. Major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi have grappled with bed shortages during the crisis. Reports have even surfaced of patients in some Mumbai hospitals sharing a bed.
In June, The Telegraph cited a Delhiite doctor who said “our healthcare system is way too fragile to deal with the current situation, and we are not equipped at all to face what’s coming in the next few weeks…catastrophe awaits us in India.” Those words now read as grimly prescient. Since that report was filed, India has recorded more than three million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and ranks as the world’s third-most affected country by the pandemic at the time of writing.
The situation within the remit of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation is emblematic of a broader issue facing India’s healthcare system. That the High Court has taken note of the crisis ought to stimulate a broader national dialogue as to how bed shortages are addressed; how the capacity of the health system is strengthened; and how pandemic management is better-executed.