With COVID-19 cases spreading rapidly across the State, a section of government doctors is demanding at least one-third of the workforce be kept on reserve and engaged on a rotational basis, and that proper quarantine be provided for those posted on COVID-19 duty to reduce exposure to the infection.
A section of government doctors alleged that no proper quarantine period was provided for doctors posted to COVID-19 duty in a number of institutions across the State, resulting in increased and continuous exposure to the infection.
The Service Doctors and Post Graduates Association (SDPGA) has put forward suggestions to the Health Department to use manpower judiciously to sustain uninterrupted healthcare services for the people.
The association sought suspension of elective theatre/procedures, special clinics, health camps, classes, academic and official meetings immediately.
It urged the Health Department to allow one-third of the strength of healthcare personnel to avail compulsory leave on rotation and be kept as a reserve force, and exempt pregnant and immuno-compromised healthcare professionals from duties and grant them casual leave.
The association also sought exemption for healthcare workers with co-morbidities from COVID-19 related work.
Doctors posted to COVID-19 duty should be provided quarantine leave and accommodation as done during the previous wave.
K. Senthil, president of the Tamil Nadu Government Doctors’ Association, said healthcare providers have tested positive for COVID-19 in bunches but not in large numbers.
“As of date, the previous Government Order stands valid for post-infection isolation and leave for healthcare providers. Regarding post-COVID duty quarantine, it varies from three days, depending on the available healthcare providers in the institutions,” he said. As of now, reserving workforce was not necessary, he said, adding: “If cases continue to rise, workforce can be kept on reserve depending on the availability.”
A. Ramalingam, State general secretary of the SDPGA, said one-third of the workforce should be kept in reserve.
“Another third could be posted on one-week COVID-19 duty followed by a week in quarantine, while of the remaining, those with co-morbidities or high-risk categories can be involved in non-COVID work. We are ready to work, but we should be prepared to work for the next two months without interruption. If all are exposed at the same time, the health workforce could crumble,” he said.
A senior government doctor in Chennai said contract doctors were getting only three days of quarantine.
“It varies with institutions, and we heard that many peripheral centres do not have quarantine. At the Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital, doctors are getting one week work followed by a week in quarantine,” he said.
Apart from a break from virus exposure, quarantine was a much-needed break from the continuous stress for doctors, he said, adding: “Many contract posts sanctioned in the last [COVID] wave are lying vacant, and the Department can fill all the posts to overcome shortage. The reasons they cite for not providing quarantine are vaccination among healthcare workers and their families, lesser sickness and lack of manpower. But we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Doctors are still posted on 12-hour night duty unlike last time when we had a six-hour shift. Hotel accommodation is also not given this time due to various reasons.”
Officials of the Health Department said the system had been decentralised, and deans of government medical college hospitals were told to make arrangements depending on the availability of doctors and nurses.