New Delhi: Private hospitals in Delhi and Mumbai are demanding weekly coronavirus tests from their dialysis and chemotherapy patients, despite orders by the central and state governments directing all hospitals to treat non-Covid patients without these tests.
Sixty-year-old Paramjeet Kaur has been visiting Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo hospital in Sarita Vihar twice a week for dialysis since 2012. However, on 2 May, she was told that she will have to bring a negative Covid-19 test report to sit for her session.
“Then they said we have to get a fresh report for next week’s sessions too. Unless we bring a new report every seven days, we won’t be given the treatment,” her son Jasminder Singh told ThePrint.
When contacted, a spokesperson of the Apollo Group of Hospitals said they were “conducting Covid-19 tests on all its patients undergoing planned procedures as part of its workup” due to the large number of asymptomatic cases in Delhi.
“This measure has been necessitated in order to ensure the safety of all our patients, visitors and healthcare workers,” Apollo said in an official response.
At Apollo, the patients have the option of getting tested at the hospital itself. If they choose to do so, they will have to pay Rs 4,500 for the first test and Rs 3,500 for all subsequent tests.
“This has become a means of earning additional revenue for the hospital. It’s not fair at all,” a 65-year-old cancer patient, who wished to remain anonymous, told ThePrint.
“Moreover, it’s not safe for me to be in a hospital setting for those many hours. My health is being put at risk this way,” added the patient, who has been visiting the hospital for his chemotherapy sessions.
Other private hospitals have also come under the radar for making Covid-19 testing mandatory.
Max Hospitals had earlier made testing compulsory for all admissions after some of its health workers had to be quarantined following exposure to two coronavirus-positive patients. However, the official spokesperson of the hospital group told ThePrint that the rule has been done away with now, though didn’t specify from when.
‘Hospitals violating govt orders’
This comes even after the government, both at the central and state levels, continues to reiterate that non-Covid patients cannot be asked to undergo a coronavirus test unless they are suspected cases.
“There are no guidelines that say all patients, those even seeking daycare admissions for dialysis and chemotherapy, should undergo Covid-19 tests. If this is happening then it is absolutely wrong,” Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had said last month.
The guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) state that only symptomatic patients, those with a travel history or those in contact with a confirmed case should be tested for coronavirus.
In an order dated 28 April, Health Secretary Preeti Sudan had flagged concerns stating that “many hospitals in the private sector are hesitating in providing critical services such as dialysis, blood transfusion, chemotherapy…”
Dialysis is a prescribed form of treatment for those with kidney problems, chemotherapy is a cancer treatment while blood transfusions are important for patients suffering from thalassemia — a genetic blood disorder.
The order added that Covid-19 testing had to be done as per protocols, and advised healthcare providers to take necessary precautions for personal protection while treating such patients.
“These hospitals are in flagrant violation of government orders by forcing patients to be tested week after week in order to get dialysis and chemotherapy,” Malini Aisola, co-convenor of All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), told ThePrint.
“They are preying on the vulnerabilities of patients to profiteer. Even testing kits which are in limited supply are being squandered through unwarranted testing,” she added.
The Delhi government, too, had issued an order earlier this month asking all hospitals to ensure treatment for non-Covid patients, or face action from the government.
ThePrint reached out to the Delhi government as well as the Union health ministry for an official response, but had not received any till the time of publishing.
Mumbai hospitals also make testing mandatory
Private hospitals in Mumbai have also been testing their non-Covid admissions, citing safety concerns of healthcare workers.
According to a resident doctor at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, all non-Covid patients are being tested for coronavirus there.
“The hospital has been testing chemotherapy and dialysis patients, as well as all those coming for routine admissions,” he told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
Last month, 31 nurses and five doctors had tested positive for Covid-19 at this hospital and it had temporarily stopped admitting new patients. Two other private hospitals in Mumbai — Bhatia Hospital and Wockhardt Hospital — had to temporarily close to new admissions after several healthcare workers tested positive for the virus.
“We must consider that every single person we meet is a potential coronavirus carrier. But that doesn’t mean we go about testing people every week — it’s not feasible. We can only take adequate precautions at our end,” J.S. Arora, general secretary at National Thalassemia Welfare Society, told ThePrint.
“This is not only a burden on the patients, but also the country and our health system since we simply do not have these many testing kits,” he said.
Arora said the only precautions a healthcare worker can take is maintaining distance from the patient, wearing a mask and testing symptomatic patients. “And if the tests are being done for the safety of the staff, then either the hospital or the government must bear the cost. Not the patient,” he added.