Bengaluru: An informal policy banning phones inside Covid-19 hospital wards is affecting patients’ emotional state as they feel isolated and miss the support of family and friends. They are increasingly arguing with the staff for mobile access.
A senior medical staffer at the Trauma and Emergency Care Centre, the designated Covid-19 hospital on Victoria Hospital’s campus, recounted an episode from July 27. “A patient was feeling disturbed and wanted to talk to his family. With great difficulty, we gave him a mobile phone. After 20 minutes, we found that it was being passed around, so other people could make calls,” the staffer said. “Over two hours, five patients spoke to their loved ones on the phone. We understood their emotional state and didn’t stop them. But when we sought the device back, no one responded. It was clear that a patient had hid it.”
A week on, the mobile has not been found.
Formally, there is no ban on patients keeping their phones inside the ward. But government hospitals tend to discourage patients, who assume there is a rule. Doctors working in Covid-19 wards offered various reasons, some hard to believe, for not permitting phones. “Radiation from mobiles might have an effect on the health of a patient. Besides, the tendency to share the phone adds to the challenges faced in controlling the spread of the virus,” said a senior health officer at a Covid-19 hospital.
Some doctors said patients were confronting them over the issue, especially the claim that the infection could spread through phones. The patients argue that if they are allowed to keep clothes, books and other articles, why can’t they have phones, which can be sanitised.
Dr Asima Banu, who is in charge of Covid-19 treatment at the Trauma and Emergency Care Centre, said patients required a lot of mental support and they would naturally like to be in touch with their family. “Patients face a lot of humiliation in society (after testing positive). When they are shifted to hospitals, they feel lost. Motivating them is our utmost priority after medically treating them,” Banu told TOI. Medical staffers lend their phones to patients, so the latter can hear words of comfort from dear ones, she added.
A 32-year-old patient at another government hospital couldn’t speak to his family for 13 days. “My wife and I have become first-time parents; we had a baby girl. Initially, I didn’t even know how she looked. It was frustrating,” said the patient, a resident of Kaggadasapura.
He was hospitalised on July 22 after developing fever and breathing difficulty. Five days later, his wife gave birth to their daughter at a private hospital in Indiranagar. “I wanted to be with my wife, but couldn’t. I was unable to even talk to her or see my baby girl on video call,” he said.
On August 2, an on-duty doctor relented and gave his phone to the patient, who immediately made a video call to his wife and daughter.
BBMP chief proposes mobile help desks
BBMP commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad has suggested setting up of mobile help desks at Covid hospitals and care centres, so patients can call their families. At a BBMP council meeting on Tuesday, several corporators raised the issue of denial of phones to Covid-19 patients. KA Munindra Kumar, Jakkur corporator and leader of the ruling party, said about 20 people were turning up in front of his house daily, requesting him to facilitate a chat or call with their Covid positive relatives in hospitals.
Madiwala councillor and former mayor Manjunath Reddy said the issue required immediate attention.



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