UK-based doctors of Indian heritage are deploying telemedicine to their colleagues in the coronavirus-stricken nation to help them battle the escalating crisis there.
India is one of the worst-hit countries in the world, recording a new global record of 401,993 new cases on Saturday – taking its total number to 19.1 million.
Another 3,523 people died of the disease in the past 24 hours.
Members of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) are working to help their counterparts get some breathing space as case numbers grow.
BAPIO member Professor Parag Singhal told Sky News: “We are trying to do as much as we can in the form of fundraising to send equipment in the form of oxygen concentrators, creating capacity for ICU beds.
“So that’s one stream of work, but we are also trying to offer help to our exhausted colleagues in India – doctors are overstretched, they’re working too hard.”
They are offering long-distant consultations and advice to patients who do not need critical care, and also analysing the results of tests conducted in Indian hospitals.
Prof Singhal said that BAPIO’s telemedicine project so far had 250 volunteers, and they are aiming to get 1,000.
One way BAPIO volunteers are helping out remotely is by analysing the results of CT scans.
Prof Singhal told Sky News: “A lot of people are getting scans but (the results) are not getting reported in a timely manner.”
He continued: “The second thing is, hospitals are having two cohorts of patients – one is those who are seriously ill, and require intensive care management, and the other is those who are less ill.”
Prof Singhal said one of the big problems was that many people in India were in “panic mode” and were presenting at hospitals when their illness could be managed at home.
“The problem seems to be that this appears to be panic mode,” he said.
“So people are queuing up for hospital beds, but if they get proper advice through a network of doctors here, along with Indian doctors, they can be managed in a home setting, thereby reducing the pressure on hospitals.”
“Those are the patients, we are trying to help through virtual ward rounds,” he said.
Prof Singhal said the virtual ward rounds project would begin from next week, with many hospitals in India expressing interest in using the service.
BAPIO are trying to avoid alienating doctors on the ground in India by seeming to bypass them and approach patients directly.
“The local practitioners have to be kept on board because they are the ultimate people prescribing medicines,” Prof Singhal said.
Instead, BAPIO has been setting up dialogue with hospitals and smaller clinics and health centres – many of which are in remote locations.
“That has been welcomed very well by our Indian partners,” Prof Singhal said.
BAPIO is hoping to raise half a million pounds to fund the assistance programme to Indian hospitals.
A hospital in Gujarat state in western India faced a fresh disaster on Friday night after a fire on a Covid-19 ward killed 18 patients.
A little over a week ago, on April 23, a fire in an intensive care unit killed 13 Covid-19 patients in the Virar area on the outskirts of Mumbai.
The government has been criticised for the pace of its vaccination rollout. Just under 10% of Indians have received their first dose, and only 1.5% have had both, despite the country being one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the situation in India as “harrowing” in a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.
On Thursday, a shipment of 120 oxygen concentrators arrived in Delhi from the UK’s surplus medical supplies, with a further 280 oxygen concentrators due to arrive on Friday morning.
The first batch of UK-funded ventilators and oxygen concentrators arrived in Delhi on Tuesday morning, with all equipment to be transferred to Indian hospitals.
The supplies are part of the initial package of support for India announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday.
Details of further assistance is expected to be announced next week.