Coronavirus | Direct States to pay salaries to doctors, Supreme Court tells Centre

The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the Centre a day to issue an order to ensure that the States pay their doctors and healthcare workers full salaries, provide them with appropriate accommodation and implement quarantine guidelines uniformly among medical staffers and doctors regardless of the nature of their exposure to COVID-19 patients

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A Bench, led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, took exception to how quarantine had been done away for all medical workers, except for those in the high-risk category. “Have you done away with quarantine? Doctors are only quarantined if they are in high-risk exposure,” Justice Bhushan asked the government, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta.

Any medical worker, whether in personal protective equipment or not, who came into contact with a COVID-19 patient should be quarantined for a week initially, the court said.

Justice Bhushan said no distinction could be made between healthcare workers in high-risk areas and others as far as quarantine was concerned.

Senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan, for petitioner Dr. Arushi Jain, said that in most cases, medical staffers had their aged parents staying with them. Lack of separate and appropriate accommodation for healthcare workers meant many of them went back home and exposed senior citizens to the danger of contracting the virus.

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Mr. Vishwanathan said many States were not paying healthcare workers on time. This was dispiriting.

Mr. Mehta acknowledged that there had been some “aberration” in the provision of alternative accommodation to medical staffers on the front-lines of the fight against COVID-19 .

Mr. Vishwanathan referred to the Centre’s affidavit which said public health was a State subject. Hence, the court should hold the States accountable for payment of salaries of healthcare workers and finding them suitable accommodation. It should then direct the Chief Secretaries to file affidavits on compliance. “Your directions will put the fear of God in them,” he said.

However, the Bench did not agree with his suggestion to issue a directive to the States; instead, it asked the Centre to issue the order by June 18. It said non-compliance would be viewed as an offence under the Disaster Management Act.

At the previous hearing, the court had taken exception to the lack of infrastructure and salary cuts for medical workers. It had earlier told the government that “you do not want dissatisfied soldiers in the war” against the -19 pandemic.

Ms. Jain has questioned the Centre’s new Standard Operating Procedure, issued on May 15, which ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for the front-line healthcare workers.

The government had responded that hospitals were responsible for implementing the infection prevention and control activities. The final responsibility rested with the healthcare workers to protect themselves. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had told the court that it was the responsibility of healthcare workers to adequately train themselves and take measures to prevent infection.

The government had said that while the hospital infection control committee in a healthcare facility was responsible for implementing the infection prevention and control activities and organising regular training for the workers, the final responsibility of protection rested with the workers themselves.

It had said the current pandemic was unprecedented and there was no time-tested and universally acceptable protocol for preparedness.

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Printable version | May 25, 2022 7:41:00 am |