As Uttar Pradesh government ramps up COVID-19 testing and looks to include more private labs for it, questions are being raised on the reliability and accuracy of the tests conducted by private labs in the state.
Health officials in several districts told The Indian Express that they are retesting every patient whose sample has been confirmed COVID positive by a private lab. Sources in the state Health Department also confirmed that so far, close to 10 samples that were declared positive by private labs turned out to be negative when the samples from the same persons were tested in government labs.
For example, in Bahraich, two samples declared COVID-19 positive by a private lab were found to be negative. “Around three days ago, two samples sent to a private lab for testing were told to be positive. However, within 24 hours when the same samples were tested at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital ( a government lab), the results came out to be negative. The district administration is now discussing if any action has to be taken against the private lab. This was the only private lab conducting COVID tests in Bahraich and no test was conducted before this,” Bahraich Chief Medical Officer Suresh Kumar told The Indian Express.
When asked why samples were tested again, Kumar said that as per their policy if any patient is being admitted for coronavirus treatment at a government hospital, then their swab samples are taken again and sent to Lucknow for testing despite being earlier tested by a private lab.
Lucknow CMO Dr Narendra Agarwal concurred with his Bahraich colleague, but at the same time added that they have been doing the retests for all kinds of disease, be it dengue or malaria. “This is not something ordered by the government, but it is our own policy. We are retesting every single person who has been confirmed coronavirus positive by a private lab. So far, around seven tests were positive (from private labs) and we sent each one of the samples for a retest,” said Lucknow CMO Dr Narendra Agarwal.
In Sitapur, too, a similar incident was reported on May 1. In Noida, a pregnant woman, who was confirmed positive by a private lab last week, turned out to be free of coronavirus infection during a test at a government lab.
“As these incidents are happening very often the reliability of private labs in COVID testing is in question now,” Sitapur CMO Alok Verma said.
A senior official of the state Health Department, on the condition of anonymity, said that they have already halted COVID-19 testing at some of the private labs for a few days. “This is happening often with a particular private laboratory. Several of their tests that were reported positive were found to be negative when tested again in government laboratories. We are sending their results to NIV, Pune, for recalibration, and only after that, we would be able to say more about this. This happened in several districts, including Lucknow, and this is the reason whenever we find the private lab results even a bit fishy, we get it tested again at a government facility,” the senior official added.
According to the Health Department’s figures, over 1.13 lakh samples have been tested in the state so far. Out of them, according to data collected by The Indian Express, at least 7,700 sample results were from five private lab chains that were granted permission to conduct COVID-19 tests. Among them, the highest number of samples – more than 4,050 – were tested by Pathkind Labs, followed by Dr Lal PathLabs (2,200), RML Mehrotra Pathology (over 1000), Metropolis Labs (330) and SRL Diagnostics (60). All these private labs have their COVID sample collection centres in several districts.
The websites of the private labs, approved by the government to conduct coronavirus tests, state that collection of samples and tests can happen only if prescribed by a qualified physician. It has also been confirmed that as most of the five approved labs have their testing centres in the National Capital Region (NCR), as a result of which test results take 48 hours. The samples are generally collected from the person’s home after a booking is made.
The government has fixed COVID-19 testing charges of private labs at Rs 2500 per sample for samples sent by government hospitals and Rs 4,500 per sample for private individuals and samples sent by private hospitals. At the same time, non-COVID hospitals can get any suspected patient tested by a private lab according to the infection prevention protocol, made mandatory by the government.
One of the private labs under lens is now getting confirmatory tests of its samples from KGMU, Lucknow.
“We are following everything as directed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). We are using the type of kits approved by the ICMR. We are also using the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) method, which is the standard procedure for COVID tests. There is no margin of error, but still we will be contacting the KGMU to confirm our tests. After that, we would be able to tell more about this,” said a senior official private lab on the condition of anonymity.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines