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Reply sought on plea against denial of first aid without COVID-19 test


July 8, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday ordered the federal and provincial law officers to file comments on a petition seeking direction to public and private hospitals for providing first aid and emergency medical treatment to every patient in the initial stages without asking them to first produce their COVID-19 test results.

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.

They said that refusing to treat a patient in the absence of a coronavirus test is tantamount to denying them their basic fundamental right, which has been causing deaths of patients after not receiving timely intervention of hospitals and medical professionals.

The advocates said the federal and provincial health authorities are responsible for taking stern action against hospital managements and medical professionals who have been refusing to provide first aid to patients and asking them to first produce their COVID-19 test results.

However, they added, the authorities have completely failed in discharging their legal and constitutional duties, while the public is suffering due to such harsh, illogical and illegal attitude of hospital managements and medical professionals.

The petitioners said that every patient has the right to receive treatment without any discrimination based on their illnesses or conditions, including their HIV status, and that patients have a right to safety and security in the premises of hospitals.

They asked the court to direct the health authorities to immediately investigate the matter and take stern action against the hospitals or medical professionals who are found to be involved in denying first aid to patients in the absence of their COVID-19 test results.

The advocates also requested that the court direct the federal and provincial governments to ensure that first aid is provided to every patient without first asking them to produce their coronavirus test report.

They also asked that outpatient departments (OPDs) be reopened to patients because many of them have been suffering due to their closure and are finding it difficult to receive emergency medical services.

The federal and provincial law officers sought time to file comments on the petition in terms of the court order issued on May 19. The SHC’s division bench headed by Justice Khadim Hussain M Sheikh directed the law officers to submit the replies by July 22.

On May 19 the high court had directed the Sindh Health Care Commission (SHCC) to ensure that Karachi’s public and private hospitals keep their OPDs open, and provide first aid, emergency services and other medical treatment to patients when approached.

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

The SHC had directed the acting chief executive officer 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.