Following a spate of incidents of patients being refused treatment, mostly in private hospitals, at least two state governments, Maharashtra and Delhi, have issued orders warning of action against hospitals that turn away patients, COVID or non-COVID.
While Delhi on Thursday reiterated its earlier order — this is the third such by the state government — and warned of cancellation of registration of erring hospitals, Maharashtra said “no patient is to be turned away… under any circumstance”, failing which action would be taken under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
The Delhi government order said, “All hospitals/clinics, especially those in private sectors, are hereby directed to remain functional and ensure that anyone needing any essential critical services, including dialysis, blood transfusion, chemotherapy and institutional deliveries, is not denied such service. Non-compliance will be viewed seriously and action as per provisions of law, including cancellation of registration of the defaulter hospital/nursing home, will be initiated without further notice”.
Sources said the Delhi government had received complaints against two hospitals that have been insisting on a COVID-19 test report before treating patients. “We are looking into the allegations. Their actions can lead to cancellation of their registration if the situation doesn’t improve in the next few days,” said a senior Delhi government official.
Maharashtra’s order comes days after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) issued two circulars in Mumbai, one to nursing homes and private doctors to restart practice immediately, and the second to private hospitals to not seal their facilities and continue functioning with precautions while handling COVID-19 patients.
Noting that “in view of increasing number of COVID-19 positive patients that government, municipal and private hospitals are either refusing or delaying treatment/admission of the patients causing delay in treatment and holding ambulances for long time”, the order said hospitals should have standard operating protocol to screen, transfer, admit and discharge patients.
Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta invoked the Epidemic Act to ask hospitals to have a screening area for patients from May 2 and create a system of triage to segregate suspected COVID patients from other patients.
The order asked hospitals to test suspected cases “on priority” and seek test reports within 12 hours. Saying that the order will come into effect from May 2, an official said the government would give hospitals time to set up infrastructure over the next two days.
The Thursday order mandates that each patient be provided a unique ID before admission. The hospitals have been asked to shift bodies of COVID-19 patients within 30 minutes from the ward and decongest their premises by diverting mild or asymptomatic cases to COVID care centres.
In March and April, BMC had declared at least 10 private hospitals as containment zones — implying no new patient could be admitted and no consultation would be carried — after staffers started testing positive. The corporation later realised sealing private hospitals was not a solution to control the spread of the disease.
On April 18, it asked ward officers to disinfect affected wards in hospitals if a positive case was detected and advised hospitals to provide PPEs to staffers and continue essential services. It advised hospitals to have 50 per cent of staff at a time to avoid crowding. On April 23, private clinics were instructed to start operations immediately, and provide treatment to non-COVID patients, specially those with hypertension, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary distress.
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