Published: 29th April 2020
Unrest at Madras Medical College Medical as students accuse hospital of 'hiding' their COVID test results
The students have also complained that a few of them were initially declared positive but then were told that they weren’t, but some of them are already showing symptoms
A few days ago, the Madras Medical College Men's PG Hostel was completely sealed off and declared a containment centre after two PG students tested positive for the novel Coronavirus. All the students underwent the test after a hostel staff member tested positive despite not leaving the campus and not coming in contact with the virus. However, students were in distress over not knowing the status of their tests.
The students have also complained that a few of them were initially declared positive but then were told that they weren’t. As they remain locked inside, they are worried that they don’t know which students do in fact have the virus and how they can stay safe. What is scaring them more is that several are allegedly showing symptoms but they can't be sure if it is COVID. A doctor at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital told us that the nodal officers who have the responsibility of giving away the reports have a huge backlog of tests and simply have no time to ensure everyone gets their reports back. “The students who didn’t get their reports are supposed to assume that they have been tested negative. But even doctors who have been tested had to wait 24-48 hours to get their results,” he said.
An undergraduate student on the condition of anonymity revealed to us that the situation in the UG hostels is quite bad too. The students here were also tested but nobody was given their reports, despite allegedly requesting for them several times. Initially, they were told that all the tests had come out negative but then that changed, soon after. “We were initially told orally that we had tested negative, later somebody from the administration called and told us that they had not said that all the tests were negative. And that there were four cases that were biased, meaning they were neither positive nor negative,” he told us. The tragedy now is that several students are apparently showing symptoms but have no way to isolate themselves. “A lot of us have cough, cold, sore throats, fever but we don’t know if it is COVID-19 or just the regular cold. We eat together, live together, use the same restroom. We do everything together, so even if one of us has it, we don’t know who they are and how they can isolate that person. We don’t have separate rooms either,” he narrated.
When we reached out to MMC Dean Dr R Jayanthi, she told us that everyone had been given the test and they were all negative for the virus, "If a student is positive obviously, we'll immediately shift them and follow protocol. It's obvious that we would take immediate action but all the students have tested negative. If they've tested negative then there's no need to hand them the report. We are not going to get anything by withholding the information," she said. She also added that there was a foolproof method of how the entire process is conducted, "As soon as someone tests positive we enter their detail into a portal and the information immediately goes to New Delhi. So I we can't revert any results or withhold any information." However, she also went to add that the administration is looking into ways to send bulk SMSs so people can get their reports. "Because of the curve, we can't do much but all these accusations are baseless allegations," she said.
But the students have a different story to tell. “We have been persistently asking the administration to hand over our reports. The PG students are also demanding the same. We want to know who has it and who hasn’t. If the reports are negative we would be relieved. As a patient, we do have the right to ask the results of the tests. The PG students got a PDF of the report but that’s not the same as a regular report,” he said. The students are disturbed and worried about how things are unfolding, “Maybe because a lot of doctors are testing positive, they have a shortage and are telling us we are negative. We don’t know. All PG students are already doctors, but we are still just students. So if we test positive, then I’m guessing the administration might face a lot of heat,” he added.
Since the doctors are on lockdown, extra burden has fallen on the female doctors and day scholars, “We also suspect that maybe one of the doctors could be a day scholar which is why they are not revealing the results. Because they can lockdown a hostel but can’t do the same for the day scholar,” he said.
Another reason that the administration is giving for not giving back the reports is that there is a confusion with regard to the names and addresses of the persons who were tested, “They can give that excuse to regular patients but they have all our details recorded. A staff nurse was also tested positive but she only knew the results two days later and again the excuse was that there was a confusion with her name and address. But that doesn’t make sense because she works there. They can’t give the same excuse to us as well.” The students are also being told that they are only hearing rumours, “But no rumour can be completely baseless, we feel there must be some basis to this.”
The fundamental rules of self quarantine and isolation don't apply to medical students. "Some of us were told we should self isolate but we were told that seven days of quarantine was enough. But I was asked to go back within six days,” he added.
The doctor we spoke to feels that many students and some doctors too are being unnecessarily exposed to the virus when there is no need. “Some PG students are still required to attend classes, so they have to go to the hospital. It’s completely unnecessary. The classes can easily be conducted online, they have TVs in the hostel, they can broadcast there as well. Because the hospital itself is like a hotspot now, so anyone entering takes a risk of contracting the virus. So why should we hold classes during this time?” he asks.
However, these are not the only issues that are stressing out the students, a doctor at RGGGH says lack of PPEs, lack of awareness on how to use them, bad segregation plans between positive and negative patients are all reasons that are contributing to the students feeling on edge. “As soon as a doctor, health worker, ward boy or anybody else enters the hospital, they immediately have to leave their bags and clothes outside and change into other clothes. They need to wear each part of the equipment one by one and somebody has to be there to watch and ensure they have worn the equipment well. The wards also need to have ventilation and air condition to ensure doctors would be completely safe. But none of that is taking place here. But even the PPEs are not of good quality and sanitation workers and ward boys don’t even know how to wear them,” he said.
In some cases, patients who don’t have COVID-19 but have symptoms end up in COVID-19 wards, putting them at unnecessary risk of catching the virus. “In one case a patient was in a COVID-19 ward and then rushed out after his reports came but there’s a good chance that he got it. Sometimes, the whole room might be filled with negative patients but have symptoms but one person waiting for their report could end up infecting all of them. We need a better system to separate the two,” he adds. For those who come with a confirmed report there is protocol in place but for those who come to get tested, there is no proper protocol, the doctor said.
The doctor also feels that the administration at the hospital should coordinate with other departments and ensure safer spaces for those with COVID-19 and without the virus as well. “We need to have an external committee headed by a retired judge or IAS officer to ensure that all the procedures are followed and the administration is kept under check. Otherwise the whole treatment gets politicised and people will take the fall. We need to have better quality of service and safer spaces for doctors. We don’t even have access to food here, only doctor on COVID duty are given food, so where will the rest of us go? They at least need to have a canteen with subsidised rates. None of these issues are being addressed,” he pointed out.
He also stressed upon the fact that most cases continue to be asymptomatic which means greater measures should be taken to ensure that there is no unnecessary contact between the patients. “We need to have someone from outside, someone even above the government officials who can ensure that everyone is doing their work well and all measures are being taken to ensure the safety of our patients, both those who have the virus and others who have other problems that can also be fatal.”