HC scraps Gujarat govt's restrictions on private docs, hospitals from testing coronavirus patients

Last Updated 31 May 2020, 15:23 IST

The Gujarat high court has directed the state government to allow COVID-19 testing of patients on the recommendation of treating doctors and directed to approve such requests within 24 hours. This comes as a big relief to patients whose treatment were being delayed due to restrictions on testing. The state government had stopped private labs from testing citing guidelines from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The division bench of chief justice Vikram Nath and justice J B Pardiwala has also directed that private doctors and hospitals do not need to wait for approval from the nodal officers for carrying out testing on those patients falling under categories mentioned in the guidelines put down by the ICMR.

As on Sunday, the private hospitals are required to wait for approval from the designated nodal officers for carrying out testing. Ahmedabad medical association had moved high court against it which was heard along with the set of petitions including suo motu public interest litigation. The association had argued that it is a must to check if patients are infected or not.

Meanwhile, the court has also impleaded ICMR as a party in the proceeding and issued notice while seeking answers on various aspects including the logic of restriction on testing. The court has asked the council to reply on "What is the rational behind its testing policy, whether the guidelines issued by the ICMR are statutory in nature and whether such ICMR guidelines are binding upon the state government or are they only recommendatory in nature and whether without any prescription from any physician, an individual can go to designated private hospital/laboratory for the purpose of testing."

Fresh controversy

The division bench, which termed the Ahmedabad civil hospital as "dungeon" directed the state government that it will keep a close watch on the functioning of this hospital and if it is not satisfied, it "may have to take some further steps in accordance with law." The court has said that "The Health Minister (Nitin Patel) of the state; the Chief Secretary, Health Department and all other authorities to keep a very close watch on the administration and functioning of the Civil Hospital. There should not be any laxity in this regard."

While the judgement was made available on Sunday, an incident showing negligence of the hospital left the authority red-faced again after it was found that the relative of a patient, who had already passed away and was cremated, kept receiving calls from the helpline informing that the patient was not only alive but also stable. The hospital authority said that "it was a mistake of the person, who informed the relative without checking patient's status and asked them to facilitate shifting of patients on basis of negative (coronavirus) report."

Helping hand more beneficial than a critical tongue

The court made several remarks about debates going on social media and other platforms about the role of Gujarat government and court orders in view of the rising cases. It said that “Merely criticising the government in power is not going to magically cure people of COVID-19, nor is it going to to make the dead come back to life. “

It says that although opposition is supposed to hold the government to account, “but in times like this, a helping hand would be more beneficial than a critical tongue. “

“All those who cannot extend their helping hand in this difficult times and do anything good for the people at large have no right to criticise the functioning of the State Government. If the State Government would not have been doing anything, as alleged, then probably, by now, we all would have been dead,” the bench has said.
(Published 31 May 2020, 15:22 IST)

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