Illegal path labs won't stop quacking

Published: Jun 24, 2019, 06:27 IST | Dharmendra Jore

Whether or not any action is taken against ineligible pathology technicians in the state, we advise you to check the labs where you wish to undergo diagnostic tests

Illegal path labs won't stop quacking

Dharmendra JoreDo you check the credentials of pathology laboratories where you give your blood or bodily fluids for clinical testing? If not, then, start doing it, because the registered doctors who are trained and authorised to run pathology labs have been alleging that some 8,000 academically ineligible technicians are running illegal labs across Maharashtra. Registered pathologists say that the technicians in these unauthorised businesses are as dangerous as other quacks in the medical field who pose serious threats to public healthcare.

It has been a testing time for registered pathologists who want illegal laboratories shut. They claim the units are run without analytical expertise of post graduate pathology/microbiology practitioners. Some technicians have been arrested and prosecuted in the past for countersigning test reports despite not having the requisite qualifications and authority. These arrests were reported to the Legislative Assembly in 2018 when the opposition had raised the issue of bogus pathology labs to question the government for allowing quacks to give opinionated diagnostic reports.

Success that wasn't
The Maharashtra Association of Practising Pathologists and Microbiologists (MAPPM) had taken the fight against quacks to its logical end in 2016 and succeeded in making the government invoke action under Maharashtra Medical Practitioners Act. A government resolution (GR) to this affect said that examining samples of body fluids, urine, blood or tissue and signing medical reports was a medical practice and should be done only by a registered medical professional. Shockingly, the GR was withdrawn in the next two days despite the Supreme Court and Maharashtra Human Rights Commission telling the governments to prevent bogus labs. The apex court had said in a similar case in Gujarat that, as decided by the Medical Council of India (MCI), a pathology laboratory report can be countersigned only by a registered medical practitioner with a post graduate qualification in pathology/microbiology.

MCI allows persons with MD or equivalent qualification to analyse blood, urine, tissue, body fluids and conduct histopathology tests and countersign the findings that form the base for treatment. Imagine the consequences and sufferings of patients when quacks examine the samples and misread findings. Justifying the move, medical education minister Girish Mahajan had told the house that the decision was withdrawn because Maharashtra did not have enough registered pathologists to cater to its entire population. He said since most of registered (MD-holders) preferred to work in urban areas, there was a shortfall of diagnostic services in rural areas. If we consider this argument, we understand that the ineligible work for our rural folks. Doesn't it compromise the quality of rural healthcare?  

One bogus per three labs
President of MAPPM, Dr Sandeep Yadav, who has been running from pillar to post of the Mantralaya and Vidhan Bhavan during the Monsoon legislative session, said that some 8,000 technicians were involved in illegal businesses, and 70 per cent of the bogus pathology labs were in urban areas. His argument finds credence in the data released by the Directorate of Medical Research and Education released two years ago, which confirmed that most pathological laboratories in Maharashtra were run without a doctor.

"In Mumbai, one in three labs is bogus. Police and local civic authorities don't take action against them," Dr Yadav told this columnist last week.  He countered the state's view on shortfall of registered pathologists saying, "The number of pathologists (3,169) is adequate for supporting the clinical/surgical side. In rural areas, not just pathologists, but all other specialists are fewer in presence. Despite the shortfall, do we allow a nurse to run a hospital? Can a radiology technician be allowed to run a sonography test? There have been 15 police complaints against these quacks. Some were sent to the prison for two to six years. What more does the government need to prevent this illegal practice?"

Another argument that MAPPM puts forth is that the bogus labs should be shut because the state government has started 'Mahalab', a project in which primary health centres and rural hospitals are covered for free examination.

Fighting their own
When told that it was not just the government but also his own fraternity which was responsible for the proliferation of technician-run labs that many registered pathologists patronised by allowing them to use their names against hefty payment, Dr Yadav said MAPPM was fighting against such doctors as well.

"We know of many who sit in one place but countersign the reports of various labs without visiting them for examining and analysing samples. Either these doctors give bogus labs their letterheads that are signed in advance or allow digital signatures," said Yadav, adding that four pathologists were taken off the registration book for six months by Maharashtra Medical Council in 2011, and four more were facing trial following complaints in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

The government does not seem to have a political will for a crackdown on the obvious malpractice. Whether or not any action is taken, we advise you to hunt before you get hunted. Do not forget to check the pathology labs where you wish undergo diagnostic tests.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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