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Hospitals Must Test All Patients: Experts

As a majority of the patients are asymptomatic, it is critical to test everyone irrespective of their underlying illnesses. By this we are not only protecting other patients and healthcare personnel, we will also curb the spread, said a health expert.

The government must not prevent private hospitals from testing walk-in patients for covid-19, said doctors and public health experts. This came against the backdrop of a partial lifting of the national lockdown and cases surging to 52,261 on Wednesday.

Last week, the health ministry directed private hospitals in all states not to insist on a covid-19 test before providing services, following complaints that some hospitals were refusing treatment if a patient tested positive for covid-19. “As a majority of the patients are asymptomatic, it is critical to test everyone irrespective of their underlying illnesses. By this we are not only protecting other patients and healthcare personnel, we will also curb the spread,” said Vishal Bali, executive chairman, Asia Healthcare Holdings, which manages several hospitals in the country.

“We do not know where the virus is incubating. Missing even a single positive person with the virus can be dangerous. Definitely not at a time when the government is going all out to flatten the curve,” said Bali.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also supports widespread testing to contain the virus. WHO has also underscored the need for prioritizing those with underlying illnesses as they are more susceptible to the virus. “Prevention and mitigation is key. Completely banning testing by hospitals will be catastrophic. The basic ethics of medicine is to test and treat. That is what doctors are following in every hospital,” said a public health expert seeking anonymity.

“The need of the hour is to attach at least three or four non-covid hospitals to a covid hospital in the jurisdiction or vicinity so that if the walk-in patient tests positive, they may be sent there immediately,” said the public health expert.

Doctors are also angered by the decision of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to file FIRs against doctors who insist on doing a test. “Isn’t it natural for doctors to test before the person goes for a surgery just so that there are no complications? If the patient dies, how does one know what the cause was?” asked Dr Kunal Sharma, an oncopathologist.

“As South Asia’s leading cancer hospital, during the lockdown period we went all-out to ensure no patient is sent back without treatment. We have put solid protocols in place to ensure there is zero infection and every patient who walked in is treated,” said Dr B.S. Ajai Kumar, chairman and chief executive officer, Healthcare Global Enterprises Ltd, which runs 26 cancer hospitals in India.

The Centre has put the onus on states to ensure testing guidelines are followed and also that no one is forced to be tested for covid.

“While the ministry is for ramping up testing to flatten the curve, we also need to be prudent with our testing resources. The Indian Council of Medical Research has designated labs but these cannot take the load if every hospital admission is to be tested,’’ a health ministry official said requesting anonymity.

With the easing of the lockdown, the outpatient departments in hospitals are all set to go up.

“This just means we are more at risk of virus transmissions. This is the time when we have to be on guard to ensure we do not go the US way,’’ said the chairman of a hospital chain requesting anonymity.

Livemint