Covid: 600 more beds for Bengal patients
The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to add 600 ICU (intensive care unit) and HDU (high dependency unit) beds to dedicated Covid-19 hospitals across the state in the next few weeks in anticipation of a spike in the number of patients during the festive period.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the state cabinet on Monday afternoon where the chief minister discussed the possibility of a surge in Covid cases over the next few months.
The cabinet also decided to bring down the cost of RT-PCR test to Rs 1,500 from Rs 2,250 at private establishments.
“The state wants to bring down the RT-PCR test to Rs 1,500 from Rs 2,250 at private establishments. Moreover, about 600 ICU and HDU beds would be added to the Covid hospitals in the next two to three weeks,” chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said after the cabinet meeting at Nabanna on Monday.
The decisions, senior government officials said, were in response to the rise in the number of positive cases across the state since the first week of October. “The steps would help the state deal with the rise in cases in the coming days. It is being apprehended that cases would rise alarmingly after Durga Puja. The steps hint that the state is preparing itself to deal with a tough situation after Puja,” said a senior government official.
According to sources, the government has already added 48 ICU beds at ESI hospital in Baltukuri near Calcutta and 56 such beds will be set up at M.R. Bangur Hospital here soon. Moreover, 496 ICU or HDU beds would be added to Covid hospitals in the state in the next two to three weeks.
At present, the state has a total of 1,247 ICU or HDU beds at the Covid hospitals. With 600 new ICU and HDU beds, the total number of such beds would go up to 1,847.
The sources said the state was forced to take the decision after demand for ICU or HDU beds, which help provide necessary life support to critical Covid patients, had increased alarmingly.
“The demand for such beds is very high in Calcutta and North 24-Parganas. I know some critical patients who had to wait for 24 hours or more to get a bed in ICU at the Covid hospitals in Calcutta. The government had to do something considering the huge demand for ICU beds,” said a senior health department official.
The situation has turned critical after the daily counts of positive cases crossed 750 each in Calcutta and North 24-Parganas though the number had come down to 450 and 500 in the two districts, respectively, in mid-September.
The decision of bringing down the cost of RT-PCR test at private labs would help the government identify positive patients at the earliest.
“This will help in containing the spread in Calcutta where people are comfortable in getting themselves tested at private labs,” said an official.
He said a private lab in Calcutta had tested 1.18 lakh samples, while the SSKM Hospital had examined 1.55 lakh swabs till Sunday. “This gives an indication that bringing down the rate of test at private hospitals would help increase the number of tests in Calcutta,” said the official.
The cabinet also decided to cancel leaves for all those associated with emergency services, including health services, during the pujas. “They will be given compensatory leaves after the pujas,” said the chief secretary.
Sources in the health department said while the state had taken all possible steps to deal with a critical situation after the festival, a lot would depend on the behaviour of people.
“We should learn from Kerala where daily Covid positive cases have gone up to more than 11,000 a day after Onam. Bengal could face a similar situation after the pujas if people don’t follow protocol of wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. If such a situation arrives, it would be difficult for the state to accommodate all the patients requiring life support,” said a senior government official.
The state cabinet approved a proposal to deploy 2,475 nurses at the Covid hospitals across the state.
The government also urged the authorities concerned to reduce the ambulance fare across the state. The sources said the state was receiving complaints that agencies running ambulance services were demanding exorbitant fares.
“Though the state government provides free ambulance services, may people prefer private services and they are facing troubles. That is why the state wants to ensure that nobody faces trouble during the pandemic,” said an official.
Rupak Barua, group CEO of AMRI Hospitals, said the Covid test would be done at Rs 1,500, the rate capped by the government, though the amount was not viable.
“We would like to urge the government to reconsider the rate as there are many expenses involved in the tests. Contrary to the popular belief, private hospitals have been incurring losses for the past eight months and this will further affect us.”
Barua is also the president of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India.