The Supreme Court Friday said states are obligated to implement the Centre's standard operating procedure (SOP) on various aspects of COVID-19 including transporting a suspected or confirmed case. The top court, hearing a PIL filed by organisation 'Earth' alleging that exorbitant rates are being charged for ambulances from suspected and confirmed coronavirus patients, however made clear that states should fix this charge.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has already issued the SOP in this regard and all states "will have to implement it". "It is obligatory for all the states to follow the SOP and take appropriate measures with regard to augmenting the capacity of ambulances," said the bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah, in the proceedings conducted through video conferencing. The petitioner organisation said the SOP does not cover the pricing aspect of ambulances and this should be fixed as hospitals are charging exorbitantly and arbitrarily.
"State government will fix reasonable charge and all ambulances will be provided on that charge," the bench said and disposed of the PIL. The bench, during the hearing, noted that the some states are not implementing the SOP and the patients are at the mercy of others and are being charged Rs 7,000 and sometimes up to Rs 50,000 for ambulance services.
Earlier, the central government on March 29 had laid down the SOP on various issues including for medical staff attending to or transporting a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. The SOP was also meant to guide and train ambulance drivers and technicians in transporting COVID-19 patients.
"Ideally, there should be ambulances identified specifically for transporting COVID suspect patients or those who have developed complications, to the health facilities," the SOP had said. "Currently, there are two types of ambulances 'ALS (with ventilators) and BLS (without ventilators). States may empanel other ambulances having basic equipment like that of BLS and use it for COVID patients," the Health Ministry had said.
It had warned against use of the ''102 ambulances'' for coronavirus patients and said they should only be used to transport pregnant women and sick infants. The emergency medical technician (EMT), driver of ambulance must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling, managing and transporting identified and suspected cases of COVID-19.
The patient and the attendant should be provided with triple-layer mask and gloves, the SOP said.