Tamil Nadu

As healthcare workers test positive, lack of guidelines hurts the system, say doctors

With healthcare workers continuing to test positive for COVID-19 across the State, the absence of clear-cut guidelines for quarantine leave and isolation is hurting the system, say doctors .

The present rapid spread of COVID-19 has not spared healthcare workers (HCWs). Inquiries with doctors working in a number of government hospitals showed that a significant number of HCWs have tested positive for the virus and in many cases, they remain asymptomatic as well.

A doctor working in an affiliated institute of Madras Medical College said there were several cases of re-infections among healthcare workers. “Doctors know the specificity and sensitivity of the RT-PCR test. So, if a test result returns negative for a HCW, having typical symptoms, they have to repeat the test. However, this is not being done. They should not decide negative results with a single test. Continuous exposure is affecting several HCWs,” he said.

“Most of my colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 but they recovered soon within a week. So, roughly 30-50% of healthcare workers are positive in our departments, mostly CRRIs (interns) and Postgraduates. Most of them were engaged in non-COVID duties. It is very difficult to manage wards with very few PGs and CRRIs. For instance, all CRRIs tested positive for COVID-19 in my ward,” a postgraduate of Government Stanley Medical College Hospital said.

There is a shortage of staff nurses as well, he said, adding, “The requirement of manpower in non-COVID wards is the challenge. There is no proper quarantine and staying facilities for doctors on COVID-19 duty. While this should be ensured, the Health department should recruiting additional workforce,” he said.

The Service Doctors and Post Graduates Association has urged the government to come up with guidelines for quarantine leave for doctors and healthcare workers – those working in COVID-19 Intensive Care Units, wards, care centres for isolation and recovery after their duty period; those who are positive but asymptomatic. For HCWs, who become symptomatic and get hospitalised, their period of stay in hospital should be treated as a special casual leave, followed by a quarantine leave, depending on the severity of illness and co-morbidities as suggested by the treating physician.

P. Saminathan, State president of Service Doctors and Post Graduates Association, said at least 40% of HCWs were infected so far. “In the first wave, HCWs were told to undergo tests immediately if they had a cough. Now, only those with symptoms like high grade fever are told to get tested. But this cannot be applicable to HCWs as testing them is an absolute need for running the institution. In 2020 and 2021, there were guidelines for quarantine and isolation. Now, there are no guidelines as heads of institutions are deciding as per their whims and fancies. We need uniform guidelines, as done in the last two years, and this should be done on a scientific basis,” he said.

Many doctors and paramedical personnel are falling ill, and it is difficult to run the institutions, he said, adding, “With no first year PG admissions, the PG strength is down by 30%. This has added to the burden of PGs who work in ICUs and COVID-19 wards of medical colleges.”

If the HCWs presenting with mild to moderate symptoms continue to work, they would become a point of source of infection, he said. “There should be a seven-day quarantine leave for those who work in ICUs. A part of hostels could be earmarked for quarantine/isolation of doctors,” he added.

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Printable version | May 21, 2022 8:40:02 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/as-healthcare-workers-test-positive-lack-of-guidelines-hurts-the-system-say-doctors/article38284527.ece