Sikkim was recently under a COVID lockdown, and as the numbers has increased, there was increasing clamour for more testing. We received several phone calls from areas where COVID cases had been detected and even from areas which had secondary contacts; all were insisting that they should be screened for Novel Coronavirus at the earliest and some even suggested that they were being ignored. The pressure on Health Department officials to expedite such testing must have been even more acute.
Director General-cum-Secretary, Health Department, Dr Pempa T Bhutia, alluded to as much in his Health Bulletin on Tuesday evening and appealed to the people not to insist on tests and called on them to trust health workers to decide when and how many should be tested. The insistence on getting tested appears to be winning though. On Monday for instance, the VRD Lab at STNM Hospital tested 855 samples when the RT-PCR facility is expected to carry out a maximum of 90 tests.
The pressure such numbers put on the technicians and facilities is only one part of the problem. Also compromised because of such numbers are the interests of suspected cases and patients, the doctor highlighted. Pointing out that only two patients were discharged from hospital on Tuesday, Dr Bhutia mentioned that this was in contrast to the 30-40 patients who were being discharged every day. The numbers were low because tests for those admitted in hospital were being delayed because of the high number of samples which were being tested.
Apart from keeping patients in hospital longer even though they were desperate to return home, such avoidable delays were also keeping beds in hospital occupied for longer than required. The faster that cured patients were discharged, the sooner the beds can be prepared for patients needing medical attention and also putting lesser stress on the health infrastructure, Dr Bhutia pointed out.
Tests taking upto two days to return because of the high numbers when they should be available the same day was also delaying important medical decisions for patients with co-morbidities and in deciding the next course of treatment for them, the Health Secretary informed. Unnecessary and not so urgent tests create a backlog which delays administrative and medical decisions, he stressed, while reiterating his appeal to the people to trust the doctors with the decision on which tests to prioritise.
Report by Prakash, Special Correspondent Sikkim