SC makes coronavirus testing free of cost, directs private hospitals not to charge fee for testing

Ghughuti Bulletin

Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the government to issue appropriate orders immediately for free of cost testing for
coronavirus even in private hospitals and laboratories, saying the current charges-though capped at Rs 4,500— will be beyond the reach of the poor. The court said it would examine later whether the private entities, carrying out the tests free of cost, would be entitled to reimbursement.

The apex court said private hospitals too have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis.

“We find prima facie substance in the submission of petitioner that at this time of national calamity permitting private labs to charge Rs 4500 for screening and confirmation test of Covid-19 may not be within the means of a large part of population of this country and no person be deprived to undergo the Covid-19 test due to non-payment of capped amount of Rs 4500,” the court said.

“The private hospitals, including laboratories, have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis. We thus are satisfied that the petitioner has made out a case for issuing a direction to the respondents to issue necessary direction to accredited private labs to conduct free of cost Covid-19 test. The question as to whether the private laboratories carrying free of cost Covid-19 tests are entitled for any reimbursement of expenses incurred shall be considered later on. We further are of the view that tests relating to Covid-19 must be carried out in NABL- accredited labs or any agencies approved by
ICMR,” a bench of Justices
Ashok Bhushan and
S Ravindra Bhat said.

The court also passed a slew of directions to the Centre and states to ensure safety and security of doctors and medical staff saying they are the warriors against coronavirus and the first line of defence of the country to combat the pandemic.

The court expressed concern over incidents of attack and harassment of medical staff involved in treating Covid-19 patients and said all citizens have to act in a responsible manner to extend a helping hand to the government and medical staff to perform their duties to contain and combat the deadly virus.

The court directed the Centre and states “to ensure availability of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, including sterile medical/Nitrile gloves, starch apparels, medical masks, goggles, face shield, respirators (i.e. N-95 Respirator Mask or Triple Layer Medical Mask or equivalent), shoe covers, head covers and coveralls/gowns to all health workers including doctors, nurses, ward boys, other medical and paramedical professionals actively attending to, and treating patients suffering from COVID-19 in India, in metro cities, tier-2 and tier-3 cities”.

“The Centre, states/Union Territories and respective police authorities are directed to provide the necessary security to the doctors and medical staff in hospitals and places where patients who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or patients suspected of Covid-19 or those quarantined are housed,” it said and directed the states to take necessary action against those who obstruct and commit any offence against the medical staff.

It also asked the government to explore alternative modes of production of protective clothing (masks, suits, caps, gloves etc.) and permitting movement of raw materials.

General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre, said that around 15,000 tests are being done on daily basis by over 100 laboratories but private labs have also been asked to do the testing in view of the spread of the virus across the country. He also submitted that he would seek instructions from the Centre on feasibility of making testing free of costs for public in private labs.

Mehta assured the court that government and police are committed to protect the interest of doctors and all necessary action will be taken to protect them. He said doctors and all other people who are fighting the pandemic will be provided all necessary protective equipment.

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