Short-Staffed Hospitals Tell Workers Not To Get COVID Tests Despite Showing Symptoms, Say NHM Workers

Rachna Khaira
·2-min read
An unidentified health worker loses consciousness at a COVID ward in a private hospital in district Mohali, Punjab. 
An unidentified health worker loses consciousness at a COVID ward in a private hospital in district Mohali, Punjab.

CHANDIGARH — On August 11 this year, Ruksana Aujla, an ANM sought a day’s leave from her post as a receptionist at the flu clinic at a government hospital an hour’s drive from Punjab’s state capital. Aujla had developed classic covid-19 symptoms — fever and diarrhea — and was five months pregnant at the time.

But Kaka Randeep Singh, the local Congress MLA, was visiting the hospital that day to formally handover an ambulance he had bought from the MP-LAD funds and so Aujla’s request for leave was turned down.

Worse, Aujla said the hospital administration informally told the NHM staff members not to get a covid test as they were already short-staffed.

“They even asked me not to get tested as there is already an acute shortage of staff members in the hospital,” Aujla recalled. Aujla complied because she is a contract employee under the National Health Mission and so has no security of employment.

Her condition continued to deteriorate, Aujla finally took a test and was found to be positive for the coronavirus on August 29; she spent 17 days in home quarantine and is now back to work at the flu clinic.

“They asked me to work at the flu clinic or else depute someone else at my place,” said Aujla.

Dr. Balwinder Singh, the senior medical officer of Civil Hospital at Mandi Gobindgarh, said he was unaware of this informal directive that NHM workers hold off from getting tested, and suggested Aujla was not in a frontline role.

“She is working at the clinic reception and is not collecting samples. She only takes down the name, addresses and contact details of the suspected cases,” he said. “We are facing acute shortage of staff and hence have to put her at the flu clinic once a week.”

Later, Aujla told HuffPost India that the SMO forced Aujla to sign a written declaration that she did not work at the flu clinic. After much persuasion, Aujla signed the letter but wrote that though she did not collect COVID-19 samples, she worked at the clinic...

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