Gujarat government issued fresh orders on May 2 permitting private laboratories to conduct tests for COVID-19 without prior permission from any government-appointed authority. The orders were issued following Gujarat High Court’s order that stated that there was no need to take state government’s permission before conducting COVID-19 test at private laboratories before emergency procedures.
“Testing is a fundamental right,” maintained the court while directing Gujarat government to allow testing for pre-operative patients and allow private laboratories to test symptomatic patients prescribed medical consultants.
However, Gujarat government has made hospitalisation a prerequisite to be tested for COVID-19.
“Now the private or government laboratories can conduct COVID-19 test based on prescription by private doctors and no permission would be required. Additionally, the patient who needs to be tested must be admitted in a hospital keeping in mind chances of infection,” Doctor Prakash Vaghela, Additional Director, (Health) stated in a notification.
The new clause of mandatory hospitalisation had drawn objection from the medical fraternity of the state. The Ahmedabad Medical Association (AMA), on May 3, wrote a letter to Principal Secretary (Health) Jayanti Ravi following the new notification.
“We believe that the said stipulation is not consistent with the direction passed by the High Court on May 29. There is no stipulation in the ICMR guidelines which require hospitalisation of patients prescribed a COVID test. In Fact, the guidelines provide that a mild COVID positive patient who is symptomatic and/or a suspect COVID patient need not be hospitalised. Consistent with the same, the government hospitals are not admitting patients who have tested positive but aren’t showing symptoms yet,” wrote Doctor Mona Patel, President of AMA.
She added, “It would be paradoxical if a COVID suspect, pre-operative patient or a pregnant woman is subjected to hospitalization. We believe there is a shortage of beds in both private and government hospitals and mandating hospitalization would add to the shortage and impinge upon the ability of the hospitals to treat the patients. We, therefore, submit that the stipulation mandating hospitalization needs to be reviewed and deleted immediately and it should be left to the wisdom of the treating physician or medical professional who would be the best person to decide upon the same.”
Noticeably, AMA had filed a plea in the High Court seeking relaxation in the policy mandating permission from nodal health officers prior to COVID-19 test following which the court issued the directive to the State. Owing to the earlier the policy, a doctor's prescription prescribing the test was being forwarded to Chief District Health Officer (CDHO) or Medical Officer of Health (MOH) and to Gujarat Medical Education and Research Society (GMERS) Hospital at Sola, Ahmedabad in case of city-based cases.
AMA had complained that these approvals were taking as long as three to five days and as a result, delaying treatment that is ultimately putting patients' lives at risk.
The state government had earlier submitted that the policy shall not be eased for the private laboratories and maintained that the policy was pursuant to ICMR guidelines. However, division bench headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath Singh sought a hearing on video conference with authorities of ICMR and decided that the filling of an ICMR requisition form and doctor’s prescription for a test for a patient awaiting emergency procedure should be enough to proceed with a test in a private laboratory and that hospitals can intimate the nodal government authority without a prior approval.
Notably, the decision of the Gujarat government to restrict private ICMR-approved laboratories from conducting tests has taken a toll on the patients. While multiple patients, many in critical condition in private hospitals, awaited permission to be tested, some died before they could get the permission.
In the last week, at least three patients died as they were not admitted in a hospital for not having a test report confirming them to be COVID-19 positive.
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