Doctors in GMC Jammu point towards community transmission after staff exposed to COVID positive patients

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Emergency Doctors say they are working without PPEs and face shields

Admin denies allegations, says ‘all is well, we have no shortages’ 


After direct exposure with asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, 18 medicos at Government Medical College (GMC), Jammu have been sent under quarantine. While the doctors say they faced official apathy pre and post-exposure to the deadly virus, they maintain that the virus might have started to spread at a community level.

The people who had come in immediate contact with the patients have been sent into quarantine while the patients have been isolated in Gandhi Nagar. Those in quarantine will be tested on 5th and 14th day of their stay in isolation.

However, the doctors say, it is impossible to track all their contacts.

The 18 medicos who have been quarantined include: 8 doctors, 5 nurses and 4 pharmacists.

With no apparent symptoms like sore throat, breathing difficulty or fever, the doctors say these patients had visited the hospital for an Orthopaedic emergency.

“They had no travel history or symptoms. People think they can now roam around on roads but it is evident that the virus has started to spread on a community level as the source cannot be traced anymore,” says a source wishing anonymity.

Recently, out of 43 patients belonging to various districts of Jammu, 17 tested positive for the virus. With the increase in the spread of the virus, the forefront warriors face the maximum risk of getting the virus and even spreading it around.

GMC Jammu, at present, can be taken as a classic example of how the doctors are made to opt for “professional suicide.”

According to highly placed sources in the GMC, the hospital is jam-packed with people including migrant labourers to get tested for coronavirus.

Recently, in the hospital premises, the labourers who were flocked in buses were made to stand in long queues, neglecting social distancing norms, and increasing the danger of spreading the virus, for the patients as well as the doctors.

“People were brought in buses, there was a huge queue without social distancing. In such a scenario, if one is infected, it will lead to a disaster,” said the source, adding that “the hospital is the worst place to visit at the moment”.

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Moreover, not all patients going into the hospital are checked with thermal guns and there is no bar set in place to allow only one attendant, the doctors said.

“COVID-19 carriers can be asymptomatic. Hence, only screening the symptomatic people makes no sense,” the sources say.

In the Emergency, teams of doctors from various departments including Surgery, ENT, Orthopedics and Medicine are available for the patients. There is only one entrance to pass through for people of these teams except for the Medicine Department.

As per the protocol, the doctors placed in the Emergency do not get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) “as it is not rendered to be high-risk zone for COVID-19 spread.”

The PPEs are provided to doctors working in Isolation Wards only.

Despite regular requests to the admin, the doctors working in Emergency are not provided with the PPE kits and mostly rely on the N-95 masks and gloves provided by the admin.

“They have been asking for PPE since the pandemic hit. They were once given a PPE kit. But that was a mockery. It did not fit them. It would fit a child or a very lean person,” the sources reveal adding that doctors keep reusing the same masks over and again.

On condition of anonymity, a doctor told Free Press Kashmir that they reuse the masks because of shortage in supply.

“Ideally, the masks are to be sanitized using infra-red or they need to be disposed-off after some time. Due to the unavailability of more masks, we have no other option than to reuse the masks already provided to us,” says a doctor.

“We have numbered our masks and reuse the masks every 5 days as per the guidelines we got from Delhi. We have complained to the authorities but they are as helpless as us. There is a shortage in supply. While we still do our job, we need the PPE kits as the patients can be asymptomatic. Before anyone else, they get in contact with us,” says the doctor who wished anonymity, fearing that he might lose his job.

“Strict action is taken against doctors who post something about the crisis on social media. We really cannot say anything,” the doctor added.

As per the set routine, on Saturday, at 1 pm and after 6 pm, a total of 5 patients had been rushed to the Emergency. They all belonged to different areas of Jammu including Bakshi Nagar and Gorkha Nagar. Their basic details including MRD Number, Residence and Phone Number were collected by the Orthopaedic team comprising of a two Ist year, two 2nd year, one 3rd year student, one Registrar and an intern.

“One among them had a broken leg, one had a broken arm, one had a fracture in his elbow and one had spine fracture. Mere plaster would not have worked for their trauma. So, the Orthopedics in the Emergency recommended surgery,” said the sources adding that in the Emergency doctors from Surgery department had checked them.

After completing their duties in the Emergency for around 24 hours, the doctors do not go home. They stay back in the hospital and finish off with surgeries in Operation Theaters or their duties in Wards.

At around 2 am, on Sunday, the doctors were called and informed that out of 5 of their patients, 4 had tested positive for COVID-19.

With the unreliable protective equipment, they had gotten perturbed.

The doctors and paramedics were asked to opt for a home or hotel quarantine.

“Two have chosen home quarantine as they live here alone and rest have been accommodated in hotel Lords Inn,” one of the sources informed adding, “they had spent around 18 hours in their cars as they were having issues with the accommodation provided to them.”

At an average, the orthopaedic team alone gets in contact with around 40 patients per day. With such a rush and a realisation to serve during the pandemic when people need them the most, the doctors say, “it’s a catch-22 situation for doctors who neither can stop working nor can complain, with the fear of facing admin’s wrath. It’s like going to a war without weapons. It’s professional suicide. A doctor can’t blame anyone if he/she gets exposed after taking the proper measures. However, it’s wrong to send them to work when they do not have PPEs. The irony is that the authorities don’t even accept the facts in public.”

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, Medical Superintendent GMC Jammu Dr Dara Singh says, “we have sent 8 doctors, 5 nurses and 4 pharmacists under quarantine. They have no issues regarding the accommodation and we have arranged 50 more rooms.”

Asked why the doctors are exposed to risk by not providing them with the PPEs, he says, “we are giving the protective gears in the Emergency and hence those we have sent under quarantine are not suspects. N-95 masks and gloves are enough to stay protected. Still, we will give them medicine and test them for the virus.”

Falsifying the shortage in supply of N-95 masks, he says, “There is no shortage of masks. Every other day, the government of India is providing us with the masks. If the volume increases, the government is also equivalently serious. We speak to Delhi every other day. They keep sending the materials. At present we have sufficient materials and as we demand, we receive them.”

Regarding the source of the virus in patients, he says, “the epidemiologists have been informed and they will determine and trace the contacts. The patients have been shifted to Gandhi Nagar. We have sanitized the hospital as well. We do have proper protocols in place.”


Marouf Gazi is a Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) 2019 fellow and a senior staffer at Free Press Kashmir.


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