United Kingdom

British doctors join India's Covid battle with virtual appointments

The actual death toll is believed to be significantly higher with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) predicting over one million actual deaths by the end of July.

India’s healthcare system is one of the most underfunded in the world and there have been chronic shortages of oxygen, hospital beds and essential medicines.

Despite India receiving aid from at least 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, 75 critical Covid-19 patients have died since Monday in Goa’s leading hospital after oxygen supplies ran out on two separate occasions.

“There is quite a depressing mood right now. Everyone has a family member or friend back in India who has undergone some sad incident or tragedy,” said Prof Singhal.

There are approximately 1.5 million British Indians in the UK, including two members of the current UK Cabinet, with many maintaining close ties to the country of their heritage.

Prof Singhal is the National Secretary of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) and over 700 members of the group are providing free, daily teleconsultations in Indian hospitals that do not have the manpower to cope with the surge in cases.

There is a shortage of 600,000 doctors and two million nurses in India and the situation is particularly grave in rural areas where 83 per cent of surgeon and physician roles are vacant, according to a study published in The Lancet.

“I was born in India and I was trained there, my heart is still there. Yes, I definitely belong to two countries, the United Kingdom and India, but looking at the distressing scenes in India and patients not being able to access medicines or to see a doctor I felt compelled and obliged to help,” Prof Singhal said.

“It has really helped us now when our hospitals are extremely burdened, allowing senior consultants to focus on patients in the ICU,” said Dr Niharika Ranjan, an attending consultant at Nagpur’s Kingsway Hospital.

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Good news has been scarce in India of late. But, on Friday morning, Professor Parag Singhal, a consultant endocrinologist, let out a long sigh of relief.

A 57-year-old woman admitted to a Covid-19 care centre at the Centre Point Hotel in the western city of Nagpur was being discharged after a week-long battle against Covid-19.

But Prof Singhal, who recommended placing the patient on oxygen and prescribed her steroids, doesn’t work in India. He dons scrubs over 4,500 miles away in the Somerset seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. 

Over the previous month, he has woken one hour early to provide daily Zoom teleconsultations to 20 Covid-19 positive patients in India before his usual shift at Weston General Hospital. If he can, he takes on more appointments during his lunch hour.

“My motto is very simple, even if we manage to save one life we have done something and we have contributed,” said Prof Singhal, who moved to the United Kingdom from India in 1994.

Officially, 262,000 Indians have died from Covid-19 and the last week has seen the average daily death toll exceed 4,000 for the first time. 

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