COVID-19: Kerala doctors make abrupt exit from Mumbai

Updated: Jul 03, 2020, 08:10 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

With issues over proper deployment, to no requirement for more doctors, stint plagued by disparate expectations

The doctors and nurses from the team at SevenHills Hospital
The doctors and nurses from the team at SevenHills Hospital

A month after they came to the city the team of doctors and nurses from Kerala, who had volunteered to assist at SevenHills Hospital in Mumbai amid the COVID-19, are returning home, a month before their decided tenure, allegedly because of differences over their role in managing the pandemic.

The move has come as a surprise when the pandemic is on the rise in Mumbai and the already overburdened healthcare system is going through tough times. Senior officials from the state, however, chose to sidestep from the issue. Highly placed sources within the team of medical practitioners told mid-day, "Three postgraduate students from the team left for Kerala two days ago and team leader Dr Santosh Kumar will leave on July 5. The remaining doctors will leave on July 15, followed by the handful of nurses."

"The nurses and doctors are yet to be paid their assured salary. It is learnt that the disbursement will take place in 15 days. The three students returned to Kerala with only their reimbursement of R10,000 each (cost of the return flight ticket), but nurses are yet to be paid as they are finding it difficult to meet expenses," said a source from the team.

'Services not required'

The initial plan was to deploy the team at the 600-bed set-up, including 125 ICU beds, for COVID-19 patients that is to come up at Mahalaxmi Race Course. They were then asked to help doctors at SevenHills hospital where a 300-bed ICU was to come up. However, the team set up a 20-bed ICU facility at SevenHills, out of the 120 operational ones, which they were managing along with assisting on 40 other beds.

Dr Kumar said, "Some of them have to resume studies. We could arrange only five specialists and the remaining 35 were MBBS doctors including, the three PG students. The staff nurses, over 100 of them, had registered with us but due to logistical issues and differences with the nursing association over salary (the association had demanded R50,000, while the government was ready to pay only Rs 30,000), many dropped out." While he did not have the number of patients they treated off hand, team leader Dr Kumar said four of their patients died on Wednesday.

Dr Kumar added that they have been assured of their salaries getting cleared soon. "We had plans and had a discussion with the Maharashtra health minister and senior bureaucrats, explaining the need for the two states, Kerala and Maharashtra, to work hand-in-hand. The Kerala government is gradually witnessing an increase in the number of COVID-19. Maharashtra and Mumbai are already going through that phase and are in need of nurses more than doctors at this point in time. The Kerala government intends to send more nurses and doctors so they can get firsthand experience of handling the pandemic at a larger scale. The decision is pending. Collective support and exchange of training is the key to tackling any emergency," Dr Kumar elaborated.

When asked about leaving midway, Dr Kumar said, "We had come to provide our assistance voluntarily and were willing to get additional doctors from Kerala, but the administration at SevenHills Hospital said they have enough doctors but are facing a shortage of nurses."

Salary a bone of contention

On May 23, Dr T P Lahane, Directorate of Medical Education and Research, who is also the nodal officer for COVID-19 had written to K K Shailaja, minister of Health and Social Welfare, Kerala, (a copy of the letter is with mid-day) requesting for experienced doctors and nurses to manage COVID-19 in Mumbai. Accordingly, she had allowed Dr Kumar, deputy superintendent, Thiruvantapuram Medical College and associate professor of orthopaedics at the college, to visit Mumbai.

In the said letter, the Maharashtra government offered R80,000 per month for MBBS doctors, R2 lakh per month to MS/MD or specialised doctors and R30,000 per month to nurses from Kerala. It also said that it would arrange for the stay and PPE kits.

A senior BMC doctor from a medical college said, "Our team of doctors at COVID-19 hospitals, with postgraduate degrees and good experience, are paid less than R80,000 as against R2 lakh that was being offered to the Kerala doctors. This upset many of our local doctors. Moreover, our staff is not being paid regularly. Instead of appreciating our doctors and nurses for their contribution, they have been left out due to ineffective communication from the state."

The other side

When contacted, Dr Lahane told mid-day, "I have no clue about the Kerala doctors leaving nor was I informed of the same. As per my knowledge, they were to be here for two months. I will have to check at SevenHills and respond."

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