The Gujarat High Court has allowed COVID-19 testing by private laboratories without the need for prior approval of government health officers for patients in certain categories based on the report of a
three-member committee of the state government.
It said government approval should be provided within 24 hours for the rest of the patients.
The Ahmedabad Medical Association had in its plea prayed for HC's direction to permit all private laboratories and hospitals, which have the requisite infrastructure, to conduct RTPCR tests for COVID-19, without any need for prior permission from the government as mandated by it.
"Those categories of patients, as referred to (in the report of the three member committee of the state government), in our opinion, would not be insisted for an approval from the concerned superintendent of the GMERS, Ahmedabad or the DHO for other districts but the COVID19 testing should be done forthwith without any delay and only intimation of such patients may be forwarded to the concerned authorities by the treating consultants," said the division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala in an order passed in a suo motu PIL related to coronavirus.
As per the three-member committee report, patients receiving cancer chemo therapy, radio therapy and planned hemodialysis should undergo testing and so do all the pregnant women admitted in the hospitals located in containment area for delivery, in the best interest of the newborn.
The report stated that pre-operative testing for patients undergoing surgery or any other instrumentation can be done as per the discretion of the treating consultant, and emergency and lifesaving procedures may be carried out without waiting for COVID-19 testing in the best interest of
"For rest of the patients (not covered in the above specified categories), we direct that the COVID testing by the treating physician or surgeon would require an approval to be obtained (from government health officer), but, at the same time, we direct and make it very clear that such approval should be granted at the earliest and, in any case, within 24 hours. This timeline to be strictly adhered to," said the court.
The court observed the "disturbing feature" of the government policy requiring private doctors to seek permission from government health officers for COVID-19 testing on patients being treated by them "takes two to four days before the permission is accorded and the test is performed" and "in a given case, this delay may prove to be fatal".
The government testing policy required permission of Medical Superintendent of GMRC Hospital for private hospitals in Ahmedabad district and/or corporation area, permission from the chief health officer of the concerned district panchayat for hospitals in other districts, and permission from civic
health officer for hospitals in other municipal corporation areas.
Defending itself, the government, in its reply to the court, had said its stand is "in tune with prevalent policy of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and that it has no relevance or connection with the socalled artificial control of data qua the number of cases in the state".
"However, at the same time, the likelihood of fear psychosis being crept in, cannot be ruled out, if the COVID testing is allowed in all asymptomatic cases, just for acquiring a feeling of safety and security," it said.
It further said at present, 19 government laboratories are sufficient and good enough to conduct the COVID test, even though the number of cases may rise.
Twelve private laboratories are also going to be utilized in case optimum capacity of 19 government labs is exhausted, while strictly following the guidelines of ICMR.
The government also said "there is no question of the qualified private laboratories not being granted permission to conduct COVID test in case they comply with ICMR guidelines".
Regarding testing kits, the government told the court its laboratories had "sufficient COVID testing apparatus/kits, wherein COVID testing is provided free of cost".
"Furthermore, as per prevalent regulations, private laboratories are at liberty to procure testing kits from the market, in as much as, the same are easily accessible by the laboratories and the state government is not required to procure and provide the same to private laboratories," it said.