The year 2021 started off on a positive note with low COVID cases, a massive vaccine rollout and a strong recovery forecast for the economy, including the healthcare sector in this fiscal year. The budget also made a strong push for overall economic recovery and announced important measures, particularly the Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, with increased investments and infrastructure building to prioritize health for all citizens. At Fortis Healthcare, we saw near normal resumption of non-COVID healthcare services in March 2021. We believed that with improved recovery rates, clinicians had a better understanding of the disease and treatment protocols. All our units initiated the vaccine drive with positivity hope and enthusiasm.
However since April, India is faced with a virulent second wave and healthcare providers are faced with a war-like situation. We will need extra ammunition to fight this war – as we are facing a severe shortage of manpower and have to increase the workforce by deploying nursing school graduates, MBBS students and foreign medical graduates waiting for exams. For at least two weeks now, hospitals in Delhi and other cities like Lucknow, Jaipur and Ranchi have been battling a severe shortage of oxygen as we have had an overload of patients with low oxygen levels. With oxygen plants and units struggling to meet the rising demand, many providers posted SOS requests for oxygen on social media on a daily basis. Depleting stocks and delayed supply have had some devastating results. Hospitals have requested the Delhi High Court to intervene in maintaining continuous oxygen supply.
In this context, our primary expectations for medical facilities are that while we are doing our best to manage the second wave, the hospital sector needs to focus on non-COVID services and other key specialities as well as these are critical for our business. No hospital is built to treat only COVID patients. We also need to ensure that while managing COVID, we should not be faced with a catastrophe of non-communicable diseases where patients of cancer, heart diseases, hypertension, chronic kidney diseases, orthopaedic or gynaecological ailments delay their treatments and are unable to access essential treatment or surgeries. We cannot place the pandemic over other health issues and have to be fair to all patients. The private healthcare sector looks to government support on this, apply key learnings from the first wave last year to work in public and patient interest. Our clinicians have to focus on care and treatment and not the logistics of medical and oxygen supply – this is where we need industry and government support.
Private providers also expect flexibility in terms of reserving spaces and beds for COVID treatment and management. We are equal partners in the vaccination drive, and to prevent community transmission, vaccinations are essential. Hospitals need consistent and regular supply of vaccines so that no challenges or shortages are faced and we are able to vaccinate maximum number of people. The most important lesson that we have learnt as a nation during the pandemic is that collective co-operation from all partners is the only way forward. We now need to take this momentum forward and establish greater synergies. This is the right time to create collaborative models to work with non-traditional partners, civil society organizations and nonprofit groups to reaffirm our commitment to our people and the planet. India is the next innovation hub for the world and all of us should join hands to give renewed focus to quality care and improved patient outcomes.