The Gujarat High Court came down heavily on the State government in a strongly worded order rapping the administration for the gross mismanagement of the COVID crisis. It placed particular emphasis on the condition of the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, calling it “pathetic” and “as good as a dungeon or maybe even worse”.
Ahmedabad has seen an alarming rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. As of May 27, 377 persons have died at the Civil Hospital.
Passing the judgment in its suo motu petition against the Gujarat government on May 23, the High Court laid out a set of directives as to how the State government could improve the deteriorating situation and show more accountability.
Lambasting Health Minister Nitin Patel and Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Jayanti Ravi for poor monitoring of health care facilities, the court asked them to explain why they had not visited the Civil Hospital more often.
Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora warned the State government that they would conduct surprise checks on the Civil Hospital and other health care facilities. “We sound a note of caution. The Superintendent of the Civil Hospital and other authorities of the Health Department of Gujarat shall keep themselves ready to find our presence one fine morning on a given day in the Civil Hospital. This would put an end to all the controversies with regard to the functioning of the Civil Hospital at Ahmedabad,” the court said.
On May 25, in spite of the Eid holiday, the State appealed for an urgent hearing against what it said were “harsh orders”.
Among the directives laid down by the court is the formation of an independent committee of doctors who will review the systems in place. The bench said the State had to set up on a war footing a computerised control centre with real-time information on facilities across districts. Information such as phone numbers of hospitals and ambulances, addresses, bed availability, and persons in charge should be accessible to everyone via the control centre, the court said. Additionally, people can file complaints and grievances at the centre. It has directed the government to appoint a representative at each State hospital who will be in contact with the control centre.
While issuing the order, the judges said the situation in Ahmedabad was deeply distressing and were categorical in their directive that the government ensure that no patient is made to run from one hospital to another for admission.
The order says all government hospitals with more than 50 beds and ICUs in Gujarat should be immediately converted into dedicated COVID-19 hospitals. It further says that all private laboratories should be allowed to perform COVID-19 tests if the government laboratories are saturated.
Accusing the government of artificially controlling the number of cases in the State, the court said the government had to immediately procure testing kits and ensure that private laboratories carried out tests at government rates. Addressing the problem of lack of ventilators, it asked the State how it proposed to tackle the problem.
The State government was also directed to provide high-quality N-95 masks, sanitisers, sterile and non-sterile gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, high-flow oxygen masks, and ventilator tubing and fittings to all COVID-19 facilities and health workers.
According to reports, an anonymous letter from a resident doctor at the Civil Hospital spurred the judges into looking at the condition of the doctors working at the Civil Hospital. Further, the judges said they had taken cognisance of several news reports and public interest litigation (PIL) petitions that had registered the disturbing situation in Gujarat.
The court has demanded a report from the State government before the next hearing on May 29.