Doctors in Mumbai oppose new Covid-19 testing orders

Doctors in Mumbai have come out strongly opposing the rules issued by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) on May 10, which require them to physically check a patient for Covid-19 symptoms before prescribing tests, otherwise their licences will be cancelled. The doctors would have to fill out a form stating that they have physically examined the patient before prescribing Covid-19 tests. If they fail to do so, they would be liable for action including “cancellation of their MCI (Medical Council of India) registration”, according to the guidelines.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines state that tests for Covid-19 at private labs should only be done when prescribed by a qualified physician. However, there is no mention of physical examination in the ICMR guidelines.

Apart from this, the MCGM released a notice on 17 May, stating FIRs should be filed against doctors, who prescribe tests without physically examining patients. The notice says that “If an MOH (medical officer of health) finds that local private medical practice is giving recommendation letters for swab testing to outside area persons without physical examination, then strict action may be taken against such doctors as show-cause notice for cancellation for registration and to lodge an FIR in local police station”. The President of Maharashtra Indian Medical Association has said that 20 notices have already been issued to doctors for “violating” the MCGM’s rules, which were withdrawn later upon the IMA’s intervention. These notices were issued by ward officers either on the grounds that a physical examination hadn’t been conducted or tests had been prescribed for those who were asymptomatic.

The doctors have pointed out that this is also increasing the harassment faced by patients who need Covid-19 tests. They now have to run from pillar to post, getting a doctor’s certificate of physical examination first, and then find a laboratory that can accommodate the tests.

In several other states such as Delhi and West Bengal, doctors have said that a normal prescription is adequate for Covid testing.

The protesting doctors have alleged that this move by the MCGM, forcing the doctors to sign such a declaration form, is illegal and amounts to cruel persecution of doctors, who are already under great stress for having to deal with the rising number of Coronavirus cases in the city. They have strongly demanded that such criminalization of doctors must end and doctors should be treated with respect. The doctors have expressed their concern that the MCGM has issued the strict testing guidelines to make testing much more stringent, so that fewer tests would lead to fewer detections and the number of Covid cases on record in Mumbai can be shown to be much lower than it may actually be. So desperate is the attempt of the civic authorities to hide the reality that even doctors are going to be criminalized and penalized for this!

As of June 2, Mumbai reported 41,986 cases and 1,368 deaths due to Covid-19, according to the MCGM.

The Gujarat government also implemented strict restrictions based on which approval from health authorities need to be sought for Covid testing. As of June 3, Gujarat reported a total of 17,617 Covid cases, according to the health ministry’s website.

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