Probe into ‘refusal’ to admit suspected virus carriers to Lahore's Services Hospital

Updated March 27, 2020

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A Pakistani volunteer checks the body temperature of a passenger to help detect coronavirus, at a railway station in Lahore on March 18. — AP/File
A Pakistani volunteer checks the body temperature of a passenger to help detect coronavirus, at a railway station in Lahore on March 18. — AP/File

LAHORE: The Punjab government has launched investigation into alleged refusal by the Services Hospital doctors to admit suspected and confirmed coronavirus patients to the facility, declaring it an act of criminal negligence that may put lives of people at grave risk.

The Services Hospital record shows total 219 suspected patients of Covid-19 visited the hospital so far.

The doctors sent the samples of these suspected patients to the lab for tests and asked them to revisit the hospital to collect their reports.

Shockingly, of them five patients, including a relative of a senior government officer, later tested positive for the virus.

An official privy the information said the health authorities feared that these patients might have infected several others before collecting their reports from the hospital.

During preliminary inquiry, it transpired that heads of the medical units and some young doctors were involved in committing the blunder as they had been refusing the suspected patients admission to the hospital.

The health authorities concerned brought the matter into the Punjab government high-ups knowledge, asking them to hold an inquiry to fix responsibility for the blunder.

As a preventive measures, the authorities shifted four Chinese tested positive for the COVID-19 from the Services to the Mayo Hospital on finding the medics reluctant in attending coronavirus patients.

The official said the investigations were ordered when the matter was brought to the notice of the chief secretary. It was shocking to know that the hospital had been blatantly violating the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the management of coronavirus patients, he added.

During initial inquiries, the health authorities managed to trace four persons, including a doctor, who were confirmed patients of coronavirus, through their reports, the official said.

The refusal to admit over 200 suspected patients before getting their tests done was a heinous crime at a time when the Punjab government had issued SOPs to prevent spread of the fatal disease, he said.

“The health authorities got picked up three of them [the virus carriers] through the police from their homes and quarantined them at the Services Hospital Lahore”, said the official. One of them was picked up by police from Ferozewala, another from Iqbal Town while the doctor who tested positive was picked from the Government Yakki Gate Hospital after police faced resistance from him.

One of the patients, however, voluntarily visited the hospital for his treatment in isolation, he said.

He said the health authorities were worried to find that the doctor had been attending patients at the Yakki Gate Hospital and at his private clinic as well, as he might have been transmitting the virus to other people.

About the four professors, who were heads of various units and were supposed to be responsible for handling of the suspected virus patients at the Services Hospital, he said, the authorities came to know that they had been direct their juniors to draw samples of suspected patients and dispatch them to the lab for tests. They had reportedly strictly directed their juniors to send the suspected patients home till the issuance of the test reports, the official added.

In quarantine, he said, only the staff nurses were attending the admitted patients as the young doctors had flatly refused to work there.

The official said the professors who were heading the medical units were also responsible for issuance of duty roster for the junior doctors to discharge duties at the quarantine ward at the Services Hospital.

They, however, never issued any duty roster, leaving the coronavirus patients at the mercy of the staff nurses and paramedics only, he regretted.

He said the representatives of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) had put a ban on the entry of the administrative officials at the quarantine ward.

“We have already taken matter to higher authorities after we got it inquired [and came to know] that the senior medics have been refusing admission to a large number of suspected and confirmed patients of coronavirus”, Specialized Healthcare & Medical Education Secretary Nabeel Awan told Dawn.

So far, he said, four patients had been traced who were sent back to their homes by the Services Hospital Lahore.

Health teams were trying to reach their families and other people who remained in contact with them to quarantine them for diagnosis, Mr Awan said.

He said the department would make public the names of the senior officials probing the matter and the findings once the probe was completed.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020