A file picture of healthcare professionals checking newly installed ventilators at BGS Hospital in Bengaluru
BENGALURU: About two months ago, after ventilators were supplied by the Centre under the PM Cares initiative, critical care units were launched in all six community health centres (CHCs) in Mudhol taluk, Bagalkot district, about 530km from Bengaluru.
These CCUs were opened amidst much fanfare and special pujas were conducted as local politicians sought to get their share of the credit. However, ever since, these units have remained unused — even at the peak of the second wave when demand for such beds far outstripped supply — as hospital staff did not have the expertise to operate ventilatorsupported beds.
“We have six ventilators here, but we couldn’t use them as we don’t have expert doctors and health workers to monitor their functioning round-the-clock,” said a senior doctor in Mudhol. “Also, our staff are currently engaged in treating Covid patients.”
The same scenario appears to be playing out across many rural hospitals in Karnataka, even though the demand for ventilator beds has not decreased.
The state government recently distributed nearly 2,900 ventilators to various CHCs, taluk and district hospitals during the first and second wave. This apart, a group of social organisations and some private companies through their corporate social responsibility arms donated many ventilator beds to government hospitals in rural areas.
A senior health official told TOI that ventilators are traditionally operated by Intensivists — specialists in critical care medicine. Anaesthetists, pulmonologists, and physicians with additional training in critical care medicine are also qualified to operate ventilators and practice in ICUs.
“Intensivists know how to intubate patients for mechanical ventilation — when a tube is inserted into the throat to help air pass through. This must be done carefully, and for that the specialist needs a support team,” the official said.
Some government hospitals have roped in private doctors on a clock-hour basis to attend emergency cases. “As per a government directive, only expert doctors like MD (medicine) and anaesthesiologists can work in district hospitals. As a result, we don’t have full-time expert doctors in rural hospitals and other facilities. But we have roped in private doctors on a clock-hour basis to operate ventilators,” said a doctor in Dharwad.
Health department officials said: “Due to this, critical patients are forced to receive Covid treatment in private hospitals.”
Mohan Asundi, a Congress functionary, said: “Poor patients are at the receiving end in rural parts of North Karnataka as they cannot afford to pay for treatment in private hospitals. They are running from pillar to post in search of ventilator beds and ICU beds in CHCs and taluk hospitals. Beds in district hospitals are already full.”
He demanded that the administration make these ventilator beds functional so that the poor can receive treatment in time.
The government though, is confident things will improve once newly recruited doctors join duty. Health minister K Sudhakar said 1,763 doctors, including 715 specialists, were inducted through direct appointment to mitigate the crisis in rural hospitals. “Once they take over CHCs and taluk hospitals, CCUs will start functioning,” he said.