The Bombay High Court disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and upheld the previous decisions of the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court as per which, laboratory reports can be countersigned only by a medical practitioner with a postgraduate qualification in pathology. According to the Supreme Court decision on the issue, any person without inadequate knowledge / qualifications and proper medical credentials cannot sign laboratory reports.
“The issue had been settled by a decision of the Gujarat High Court on September 17, 2010, and the order passed by the Supreme Court on December 12, 2017, as per which the opinion of the Medical Council of India that laboratory reports can be countersigned only by a medical practitioner having postgraduate qualification in pathology was found to be correct,” the court said, while disposing of the PIL last week.
The decision was welcomed by the Maharashtra Association of Practicing Pathologists (MAPPM) and considered as a victory as they have been fighting against the issue for a long time. The association in the past had claimed that there are thousands of unauthorized labs running in the state and estimated that about 80 % of the labs are not managed by a registered medical practitioner with a Master’s in Pathology or Microbiology.
An RTI filed by the association revealed that even the BMC had no record of laboratories operating in the city showing how easy it was for untrained and unqualified people to open pathology laboratories in the city.
Last month the Patna High court, after hearing a PIL filed by the Indian Association of Pathologists and Microbiologists, directed all civil surgeons of Bihar to produce Action Taken Reports (ATRs) on all illegal pathology laboratories and collection centers operating in the state. The state department informed the court that out of the 3153 pathological and diagnostic centres, 2514 centres (close to 80%) were found illegal and action was taken against the majority of them.
The role of pathologists and the importance of their profession is unquestionable given that they are the backbone of the healthcare system. With technician–run labs mushrooming all over the country, it can be detrimental to the health of patients as wrong reports lead to the wrong diagnosis and ultimately the wrong treatment.
It is common knowledge that some pathologists offer their names and/or signatures to these illegal laboratories for monetary gain. The pathologists who don’t visit the lab regularly to supervise or oversee the testing process and prepare report instead give signatures on a blank letterhead so that the report is printed on the letterhead whenever required.
It is unfair and degrading for the qualified pathologists to compete with such technicians but with the labs brazenly violating the apex court’s decision, there seems to be no way to end the proliferation of such illegal labs.
It is the bounden duty of the state to act against illegal pathological laboratories and bogus doctors. The government is obligated to prescribe minimum standards, facilities, and services and improve public health as per Article 47 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
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