The exponential increase in COVID-19 cases over the last two months has left government hospitals grappling with manpower shortage. Given the continuing surge and the steps taken to increase the number of beds, healthcare providers have called for immediate measures to recruit additional manpower at all levels — doctors, staff nurses, technicians and hospital workers.
The State’s active case-load has increased 3.5 times over the last month. Several government hospitals that have been running to capacity are facing manpower shortage, with staff members already overworked.
Minister for Medical and Family Welfare Ma. Subramaniam recently announced that 2,000 doctors, 6,000 staff nurses and 2,000 technicians would be recruited. Efforts to augment manpower should be made on a war footing, a section of government doctors said.
K. Senthil, president of the Tamil Nadu Government Doctors’ Association, said in the last 15-20 days, the increase in case load was disproportionate to the manpower at hospitals. “There is a huge shortage of manpower. In places such as Chennai and Madurai, the doctor-patient ratio is 1:30, while the nurse-patient ratio is 1:25 or 1:30. At medical college hospitals, the majority of the patients are on oxygen support, with one nurse needed for 15 patients. There is one hospital worker for 40 patients,” he said.
A senior doctor working at Government Stanley Medical College Hospital said the hospital had seven doctors and as many nurses for 60-70 beds in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and one doctor and one nurse for 30 beds in wards. “This should be doubled. If the manpower is increased, it will reduce both physical and mental fatigue of the front-line healthcare workers. This will definitely improve the outcome of management, both in terms of morbidity and mortality,” he said.
At the Government Medical College Hospital, Omandurar Estate, there was one doctor for every 50 patients and two or three nurses for 50 patients a shift in the regular COVID-19 wards. In the ICU, there were three staff nurses and a doctor for 30 patients. “Ideally, there should be one staff nurse for 10 patients. They have plenty of work to do, including writing up records. There should be one doctor for 25 patients. One of the main issues is that if four or five patients fall sick at a time, it will be difficult to attend to all of them simultaneously. This is exactly what is happening now,” one of the doctors said.
Manpower shortage also meant that the staff members had frequent COVID-19 duties. “We are posted on COVID-19 duty every alternate week,” he said.
A. Ramalingam, general secretary of the Service Doctors and Post Graduates Association, said the outcome of a patient admitted to the ICU depended on nursing care. “A nurse has to take care of several needs of the patient and administer injections and IV fluids. Nurses play an important role in the critical care of patients. The government has to execute its plans fast and prioritise the requirements. Appointments should be made on a time-scale basis as there are no takers for contractual appointments,” he said.
A doctor at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital said several posts of doctor were reduced in the restructuring exercise under the Government Order 4 (D) 2. “Now, the beds are being increased and patients are flooding both the outpatient department and the admission ward. The GO should be revised,” he said.
“We need to increase the manpower at all levels — doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital workers. At a time when we are increasing the number of beds for COVID-19, we definitely need to augment the manpower. Doctors, staff nurses and laboratory technicians also fall ill. We need to give the staff a mandatory one-week quarantine after COVID-19 duty and 15 days for recuperation if they test positive for COVID-19,” a hospital authority said.