The Delhi High Court passed an order directing the State Government to implement certain measures to ensure the safety and protection of health care professionals, especially those attending COVID patients. These measures include implementation of a dedicated helpline for healthcare workers, appointment of nodal officer(s) to handle complaints from all healthcare workers, monitoring issuance of PPE equipment to the staff of registered hospitals and ensuring accountability of healthcare providers in using PPE kits and N-95 masks to their staff.
Addressing a PIL filed by the NGO District Management Collective, a division bench of Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan took into account some of the suggestions of the petitioners for ensuring the safety of all healthcare workers and passed the following specific directions to the Delhi Government:
Rejecting the State's contention that the 24*7 helpline provided by it for the public can address the concerns of the healthcare professions along with its Public Grievance Management System wherein the public and healthcare workers can raise their grievances, the Court stated that the nature of grievances of health care workers would be different from the public's grievances and therefore a dedicated helpline for healthcare workers can be of great help to them. It noted the petitioner's submission that the rate of death and infections in healthcare workers was high to conclude that a dedicated helpline can render assistance in this aggravated situation.
The Court directed DGHS to appoint nodal officer(s) to handle complaints by healthcare workers. It also directed the DGHS to circulate the names and contact numbers of such nodal officer(s) to all healthcare facilities, with the direction that the healthcare workers deployed in the facility be suitably informed. Further, it stated that this information should also be duly publicized on the official website of Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi and/or DGHS, so that the availability of such redressal mechanism is known to the affected persons.
The Court noted that an office order dated 14.07.2020 of DGHS calling for such mandatory undertaking by healthcare facilities was already in effect and was being implemented by the DGHS. The Court further stated that a concerned branch of the DGHS must monitor the issue of provision of PPE equipment to all hospital staff and should take necessary actions in case of breaches.
Court rejected extension of posthumous ex-gratia payment to healthcare officials not assigned to COVID duties
Further, the Court noted that it cannot direct the Government to extend the facility of posthumous ex-gratia payment meant for Government and private workers assigned to COVID duties to those healthcare professionals who are not especially assigned to COVID duties but acquire the infection in the course of performing other duties in healthcare facilities. The Court stated that such grant was in the nature of a policy decision of the Government and cannot be interfered with by the Court. The Court rejected the claim of the petitioner that all healthcare officials whether assigned to COVID duties or not are at the same level of risk and therefore must be entitled to equal benefits. However, it suggested that the Government may extend the facility to other similarly placed workers if it deems fit.
Court rejected the demand to provide all nurses with post duty quarantine facility of 14 days.
The Court also rejected the petitioner's demand to provide all nurses with post duty quarantine facility of 14 days. It noted that quarantine facility is not at all required for each and every healthcare professional. Relying on guidelines dated 18th May, 2020 issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Court stated that a one week quarantine for nurses is mandatory only in low risk/ high risk prone areas which maybe extended to another week as per the discretion of the nodal officer.
The Court rejected to extend coverage of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to other categories of healthcare workers not assigned to COVID duties
Rejecting to extend coverage of the policy which provides an insurance of Rs. 50 lakhs to all public as well as private healthcare workers assigned to COVID duties, the Court stated that it cannot change a policy decision by the Government given that such policy was not discriminatory as contended by the petitioner. It clarified that
Nurses and healthcare professionals working directly with Covid-19 patients are at a high risk and there are higher chances that these persons may get infected, and hence the insurance benefit has been extended for them. Persons who are not working with Covid-19 patients e.g. those who are working with orthopaedic patients who are not suffering from Covid-19, are not in the same position. The State authority can always create such classification and give extra benefit to those who are working directly with high risk Covid-19 patients. Such categorisation cannot be held to be irrational or lacking any nexus with the object of the benefit being provided.
The Court further directed concerned authorities to ensure full compliance of their Office order dated 14 July 2020 by private nursing homes by taking suitable actions for its breaches by nursing homes. It also stated that it shall pass individual orders to nursing homes whenever any breach is brought before the Court by way of a writ.
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