"We would wish to use this order to place on record our sincerest appreciation for all the public healthcare professionals – not just limited to the doctors, but also nurses, hospital staff, ambulance drivers, sanitation workers and crematorium workers", said the Supreme Court in its suo moto case In Re: Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic.
A Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, speaking as grateful citizens of the country, went on to "commend the outstanding work of our all healthcare professionals" during the crisis.
The bench made these observations in the order passed in the suo moto case In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services during Pandemic.
The Order records, "They have truly gone beyond their call of duty and toiled day in and day out, relentlessly without rest amidst great challenges. It is absolutely necessary to take urgent steps for their well-being to ensure that our appreciation for their tremendous efforst is not reduced to rhetoric".
Noting that this commendation was important as "collective public memory" of any event was created by the rhetoric surround the same.
"As such, our public memory of this public event has to transcend its conception as a 'war' against the virus of COVID-19 itself, but rather to remember that it is 'the complex epidemiological circumstances that promote these outbreaks and the under-resourced health systems that are tasked with disease containment".
The Court then acknowledges that while the healthcare professional have been at the forefront of tackling this crisis, it is imperative to recognize their contribution as medical healthcare professionals who have undertaken to protect public health and serve the community at large, and not just as "CORONA WARRIORS".
"We also do not hesitate to note that the treatment meted out to these public healthcare professional during this COVID-19 pandemic has sometimes been less than ideal"
The Order then goes on to underline that the treatment meted out to these public healthcare professionals during the pandemic has sometimes been less than ideal, and then highlights a few of the issues. They are as follows:
"(i) Recently, there were reports that the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package Insurance Scheme, an insurance scheme of Rs. 50 lakhs which had been extended to about 22 lakh healthcare professionals, was set to expire on 24 March 2021 and would not be renewed. While we are happy to note that UOI's affidavit of 23 April 2021 states that this Scheme has been extended for one year starting April 2021, we have also been informed that till date only 287 claims have been settled under it, which includes claims from the families of 168 doctors who died after contracting COVID-19 while treating patients. We direct the Central Government to inform this Court as to how many claims are pending under the Scheme, and the timeline within which the Central Government expects to settle them";
(ii) Healthcare personnel are at an obvious heightened risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. However, we are aware of reports that indicate that infected healthcare personnel are left to fend for themselves without adequate availability of beds, oxygen or essential drugs. Further, some of them have also been asked to report back to duty within 10 days of first testing positive for COVID-19 (provided they are asymptomatic), even though a longer recuperation period is often recommended. While we are dealing with a terrible second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there must be an effective policy to ensure that the nation truly acknowledges their effort and creates incentives for them. We hope it will be remedied soon by the Central and State Governments through the introduction of appropriate guidelines and measures;
(iii) It is unclear what measures are currently being taken to ensure that healthcare personnel can continue to serve others while not risking the health of their family members. We hope that the respective State Governments, with necessary assistance from the Central Government, can ensure this takes place;
(iv) The Central Government should, we feel examine and ensure that in addition to the schemes it has framed, other facilities such as availability of food, resting facilities during intervals between work, transportation facilities, non-deduction of salary or leave account, if afflicted by COVID 2019 or related infection, overtime allowance, in both public and private hospitals, and a separate helpline for doctors and healthcare professionals, in cases of COVID 2019 related emergencies, is provided. All these, we feel, would show these professionals that we do not show our appreciation in mere words, but also care for them".
Stating that the aforementioned issues are only symptomatic of the other broader issues that are being faced by healthcare professionals who are instrumental in combating the pandemic, the Court records that they hope their welfare is seriously considering by the Central and State Governments.
"…we would wish to use this order to place on record our sincerest appreciation for all the public healthcare professionals – not just limited to the doctors, but also nurses, hospital staff, ambulance drivers, sanitation workers and crematorium workers. It is through their dedicated efforts that the effect of COVID-19 pandemic is being currently tackled in India".
Title : In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic, Suo Moto Writ Petition(Civil) No. 3/2021
Coram : Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat
Citation : LL 2021 SC 236Click here to read/download the order