Lab technicians unqualified for taking COVID-19 samples

'Lab technicians not qualified for taking COVID-19 samples in Tamil Nadu, plea in Madras High Court

The Tamil Nadu Government Medical Laboratory Technicians Association has moved the Madras High Court seeking to restrain the state government from making the association members take samples of suspected COVID-19 patients.

The association, while making it clear that lab technicians are not qualified to collect samples of throat swab and nasal swab to test for COVID-19, submitted that only qualified ENT doctors can be engaged for such jobs. Referring to the Centre's letter dated April 8 which has also given guidelines in respect of qualified personnel to collect samples, the association submitted that making its members take the samples would amount to violation of medical rules, the petitioner-association moved the court. When the petition came up for hearing before it, the Division Bench comprising Justice M. Sathyanarayanan and Justice M. Nirmal Kumar adjourned the plea to May 13.

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According to the association, the country is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of COVID-19 and one of the key components of the association's strategy to combat this outbreak is contact tracing and collecting of throat swab (oropharyngeal) and nasal swab (nasopharyngeal) samples of potentially infected persons.

"They said samples can be collected only through the trained healthcare worker in presence of a clinician. Only qualified and trained persons particularly ENT specialist doctors and postgraduate training doctors who have studied the anatomy and physiology of throat and nasal swab can do the job," the petitioner said. Even the Union government through a communication dated April 8 has issued guidelines and has directed all the states and union territories to take necessary steps to utilise the services of ENT professionals and post-graduate trainees to take such samples.

The WHO has also issued a similar guideline, the association added. This apart, the lab technicians have only basic qualification of diploma in medical laboratory technology without any expertise in the anatomy and physiology of a human body making them ineligible to collect such samples, they said. Therefore, the petitioner-association wanted the court to direct the state to immediately stop engaging lab technicians for collecting swab samples and instead engage qualified ENT doctors for the purpose.