New Delhi: The Delhi government Friday withdrew its 1 September order in which it had said the empanelled doctors of mohalla clinics will now have to start conducting rapid antigen tests, as the authorities planned to ramp up Covid-19 testing to meet the target of doing 40,000 tests per day.
The authorities, however, said Friday the tests cannot start immediately as modalities are still being worked out.
“We are not starting anything immediately. We will first train the staff and doctors and a meeting was held in this regard (Friday), so we will see what has to be done,” Dr Shalley Kamra, nodal officer for mohalla clinics, told ThePrint.
The 1 September order had left mohalla clinics doctors anxious and worried about their safety as they claimed that they don’t have adequate protection gear such as sanitisers and PPE kits to do Covid tests, and that clinics also lack adequate space.
Speaking to ThePrint, the doctors said they are hoping the government won’t decide again to involve them in Covid testing as it will put them at the risk of catching the infection in the absence of adequate safety gear.
ThePrint reached Director General, Health Services, Nutan Mundeja through calls and text messages for a comment, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
SOP for mohalla clinics likely
The order issued by the Delhi government earlier this week, a copy of which is with ThePrint, said all mohalla clinics will be used as Covid-19 testing centres.
The chief district medical officers of the respective districts will monitor the testing process, said the order, adding that lab technicians in each clinic will have to upload testing data on the ICMR portal.
Although the order stands withdrawn now, a source in the Delhi government told ThePrint a detailed SOP is expected to be prepared for the purpose of conducting tests at mohalla the clinics.
There are a total of 452 mohalla clinics across Delhi, operating in two shifts — morning (8 am to 2 pm or 7 am to 1 pm) and evening (1 pm to 7 pm).
Mohalla clinics are the flagship primary healthcare centres of the AAP government, aimed at providing free healthcare and medication to the capital’s poor. They have been hailed for bringing free healthcare to people, and for helping Delhi tide over its dengue and chikungunya crises.
Since 2015, when the first mohalla clinic was launched, their number has climbed to 484. But currently, 452 are operational.
Dr D.D. Arora, a mohalla clinic doctor, said there are no protective gear or PPE kits available in mohalla clinics, and they have to even arrange sanitisers on their own.
“So, how do they plan to conduct Covid-19 tests in this scenario when the basic measures aren’t in place? Some of our staff even tested positive,” he told ThePrint.
Dr Arora, 75, is also worried that he might have to work beyond his shift hours for the purpose of Covid testing.
The doctors also claimed to be grappling with delay in payment of salary.
A doctor at a South Delhi mohalla clinic, who didn’t want to be named, said: “My staff and I haven’t received our salaries for the last two months and bill reimbursements since May. If they expect us to still do Covid tests, how much will we overwork ourselves?”
In March, when ThePrint spoke to several mohalla clinic doctors, they had voiced similar issues about lack of safety gear, late salary payments and and proper hygiene.
A pharmacist working at one of the two mohalla clinics in Saket told ThePrint that the least the government could do is take the consent of the staff and doctors before finalising any decision.
“There were days we did not even have a sanitiser and our doctors arranged it. So, if we are to test people for Covid-19, we need to have all these basic safety measures in place first,” he added.
Dr Pankaj Kumar, who works at a mohalla clinic in Tikri Kalan, said, “Initially, we received orders that our clinics will also operate as testing centres followed by a notification today (Friday) that it has been withdrawn.” He added that may be only those mohalla clinics that have sufficient space would be asked to conduct tests.
V.K. Gupta, a doctor at a Lajpat Nagar mohalla clinic, said: “Without the metro, the junior staff face a lot of inconvenience to reach the clinics and also no conveyance charges have been provided by the government.”