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May 20, 2020

SHC orders ensuring OPD, emergency services at Karachi’s hospitals


May 20, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday directed the Sindh Health Care Commission (SHCC) to ensure that Karachi’s public and private hospitals keep their outpatient departments (OPDs) open, and provide first aid, emergency services and other medical treatment to patients when approached.

The order came on a petition seeking direction to hospitals for providing first aid to every patient in the initial stages without asking for them to first produce their COVID-19 test results.

The SHC’s division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar ordered that public and private hospitals of the city will keep their OPDs open, and before everything else, provide first aid and emergency services to patients when approached.

The court observed that if the hospitals want their patients to be screened for COVID-19 on the basis of a symptom, they can ask them for getting tested.

The bench directed the acting chief executive officer (CEO) of the SHCC to issue a press release and write to hospitals, and to be present in court on the next hearing with a compliance report of the inspection of other public and private hospitals in Sindh. Acting SHCC CEO Dr Farhana Memon said the commission has teams for routine inspection to see if all hospitals are performing their duties in accordance with their standard operating procedures (SOPs).

She said the commission had inspected Karachi’s public and private hospitals, including the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the Dr Ruth KM Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), the Liaquat National Hospital, the South City Hospital and the National Medical Centre.

She also said that the inspection teams found that the hospitals were performing their duties and functions in accordance with the SOPs issued by the SHCC. She added that only the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital (ASH) was found to have its OPD closed.

She gave a clear statement that they were issuing a public notice to ensure the protection of healthcare providers. Regarding the screening of COVID-19 patients at private and public hospitals, she said the SHCC deploys staff as and when they receive requisition for the purpose.

Dr Farhana said the SHCC has tested the paramedical staff of 12 private hospitals and six public hospitals. Representatives of public and private hospitals also filed their replies on the petition, saying that they have not closed their OPDs or stopped providing first aid and emergency services.

The court took notice of the no-show of the ASH medical superintendent and issued a notice to the MS through the police station concerned to ensure his appearance in court.

JPMC Executive Director Dr Seemin Jamali and South City Hospital CEO Dr Sadia Rasul Virk said they have screened all their employees and paramedical staff, adding that some of the staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been quarantined. They said that besides the standard novel coronavirus test, chest CT scan is another way to further ensure as to whether a person is afflicted with COVID-19.

CHK Deputy MS Dr Abdul Saeed said the Sindh government has provided 5,000 personal protective equipment to them for the safety of their paramedical staff and other employees.

The court adjourned the hearing until June 2 as the counsel wanted to go through the replies submitted by the respondents’ counsel, including the undertaking by the AKUH. Advocates Asim Iqbal and Nadeem Sheikh had filed a petition in the SHC saying that all public and private hospitals are duty-bound to provide basic emergency medical care, and that the injured and other patients have the right to receive such treatment as well.

The advocates said that it has been noticed that during the COVID-19 crisis, whenever a patient approaches a doctor or a hospital in an emergency situation, even if it is unrelated to the novel coronavirus, medical professionals available at clinics or other health facilities avoid providing them first aid.

The petitioners said hospital administrations ask patients for their coronavirus test results instead of providing them first aid, which not only delays their medical treatment but has also resulted in the deaths of several patients. The advocates said that public and private hospitals have closed their OPDs to patients afflicted with different ailments and are not treating other diseases, which has been causing problems to such patients.

The petitioners said that first aid is the provision of initial, immediate and on-the-spot treatment to victims of accidents or sudden illnesses that is usually performed by inexpert persons until professionals take over. The advocates said that certain self-limiting illnesses or minor injuries may not require further medical care beyond the first aid intervention, and that due to the increasing number of accidental emergencies, there is a need for first aid management and preventive services.