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Delhi HC asks Expert Committee constituted by Lt-Gov to take emergent decision on problems being faced by private COVID-19 testing labs

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court yesterday referred several issues which are being faced by private laboratories in the city to the Expert Committee constituted to advise the Delhi Disaster Management Authority. (Rakesh Malhotra vs NCT of Delhi)

These include the cumbersome process of uploading patient on multiple portals, mandatory registration of phlebotomists etc.

In view of the fact that the COVID-19 cases had shot up to 47,102, the Court stated that it was imperative that the Committee took an emergent decision on the issues.

The order was passed by a Division Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Kohli in a petition preferred by Advocate Rakesh Malhotra concerning the rate and status of COVID-19 testing in the city.

On the last date of hearing, the Court had directed all the 23 private laboratories who were permitted to undertake COVID-19 tests to point out the difficulties, if any, they were facing on account of bureaucratic red-tapism.

Out of 23 private laboratories, 12 laboratories filed their affidavits listing out several issues that they were facing.

Broadly, these are the issues:

- Private labs had to undertake a cumbersome process of contemporaneously uploading patient registration forms on the RT-PCR App, the COVID App, the ICMR Portal and the Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal linked to the office of Chief Minister, Delhi Government.

This required not only engaging several Data Entry operators but also wasted their valuable time and diverted their energies. It was suggested that the process of furnishing the data be simplified and a single-point agency be designated for the purpose.

- Phlebotomists who go on-site to collect the samples are required to define patient categories, even when they are not equipped/trained for this purpose. During the process of sample collection and filing out necessary forms, although the Phlebotomist is wearing a PPE kit, he is likely to be exposed to infection.

- All Phlebotomists are required to be registered with the District Magistrate concerned for being authorized to collect samples. Non-registration of the Phlebotomists results in his inability to operate the RT-PCR App, thus, reducing the testing capacity.

It is also stated that there is duplication in the process which hinders the work of collecting the samples and curtails the number of Phlebotomists who would otherwise be available to collect the samples.

- NABL was insisting already accredited private laboratories to seek re-accreditation for undertaking the COVID-19 test. This was not required in the current emergent situation.

- Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 like loss of smell and taste did not find mention in the advisory for testing or in the forms that were required to be filled up by the Phlebotomist, leading to confusion.

The private labs further suggested that temporary centers to undertake COVID-19 tests could be set up at various locations in order to save the time spent on sending Phlebotomists to the residence of the suspected cases. It was also suggested that the number of the testing kits vendors identified by the Delhi Government be increased.

The Court also perused the Status Report filed by the Delhi Government and noted that the number of public laboratories equipped to undertake COVID-19 tests had been increased from 17 to 18 and the private laboratories, from 23 to 25.

While the collective testing capacity had been increased to 10,700 tests everyday, the Court noted that not more than 7,000 were being conducted.

As per the updation on the website of Delhi Government, testing on a daily basis is not more than 7000, which means that the available capacity of 3700 is not being utilized, which is most unacceptable. The conclusion is that the testing facilities of the private laboratories are not being used to their optimum capacity, though they have not expressed any hesitation in ramping up the number of testing.
Delhi High Court

On being informed that the Lieutenant Governor, Delhi, had constituted a Committee of experts to advise the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, the Court opined that many of the issues highlighted before it could be resolved by the Committee particularly, those relating to duplication of data which is resulting in loss of valuable time for private laboratories.

"In view of the urgency in the matter and being mindful of the fact that the number of COVID-19 cases in Delhi have shot up to 47,102, as of yesterday, it is imperative that the Committee takes an emergent decision and communicates the same to the court, through the Delhi Government well before the next date.", the Court ordered.

The Court directed the Delhi Government to file a status report and also asked NABL to state its stance with regards to the process of re-accreditation of private laboratories to undertake the COVID-19 test.

The matter will be heard next on June 22.

Additional Standing Counsel Satyakam appeared for Delhi Government.

ASG Maninder Acharya, Standing Counsel Anurag Ahluwalia appeared for ICMR.

Advocates Ashish Mohan, Rohit K. Aggarwal, Gunjan Sinha Jain appeared for Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra with Advocates Arjun Dewan, Aayushi Sharma Khazanchi appeared for Dr. Dang Labs LLP.

Advocates H.S. Chandhoke, Mumtaz Bhalla appeared for Dr Lal Path Labs Ltd.

Advocates L.K. Bhushan, Aditi Awasthy appeared for Dr B.L Kapur Memorial Hospital.

Advocate Neeraj Yadav represented HCMCT Hospital and Advocate Pratishtha Vij appeared for Sterling Accuris Diagnostic.

Read the Order:

Rakesh Malhotra v Govt-18.06.pdf
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