Sikkim, May 18: The High Court of Sikkim has expressed concern over the non-availability of testing labs, purportedly due to a lack of trained workforce including microbiologists. On Monday, when the number of new COVID-19 cases dropped to 69, it was evident that no RT-PCR testing was carried out in the viral lab at STNM Hospital, the court noted.

The hospital management has argued throughout the pandemic that “Sundays are when the lab gets closed for both sanitization as well as rest for the overworked staff at the viral lab”.

The Sikkim High Court, led by the division bench of Chief Justice Jitendra Kumar Maheshwari and Justice Bhaskar Raj Pradhan, however, took serious note of the shortcomings in the medical resources of the state.

It stated, “In a state of the present pandemic, it has been noticed that RT-PCR test is of vital importance. We are, therefore, of the view that the state government must take urgent and immediate steps to provide RT-PCR testing facilities, at least, in the four district hospitals. For the said purpose, it must take up such steps to augment their resources including employing trained manpower and microbiologists.”

The Sikkim High Court urged the state government to take all necessary steps to augment its resources to tackle the present the situation of COVID-19 pandemic on a “war footing”.

The court also noted that there is no COVID-19 ICU at district hospitals in Namchi, Mangan, and Singtam.

We are of the view that dedicated COVID-19 wards and ICU facilities should be provided in all the district hospitals, including in Singtam, with oxygen and ventilator support,” the court ordered.

So far as the supply of medical oxygen in the state is concerned, the court asked the government to come out with a specific timeline for setting up of proposed PSA (Pressure Swing Absorption) oxygen generating plants and the proposal for obtaining D –type and B-type oxygen cylinders.

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Earlier, on April 23, the STNM Hospital management had told EastMojo, “The D-type cylinders have 47 litres of oxygen per cylinder and there are 260 jumbo cylinders. Some of these have gone for a refill, some are in transit, while others are connected to the pipeline and some are kept as buffers. Here in Sikkim, we use B- and D-type, B-type cylinders with 10 litres supply and are given in the wards in case of emergency, which is looked after by the health department’s stores section. We have around 101 B-type cylinders in STNM Hospital. Another 100 cylinders have been approved for procurement by the government, 25 of which have been delivered. In the hospital, there are 126 B-type cylinders. But only D-type cylinders are looked after by STNM Hospital.”

On the PSA oxygen generating plant, the hospital management had then highlighted, “This plant is being given especially by the Union health ministry as part of COVID-19 management. The oxygen plant also takes oxygen from the air. If our plant can give 500 litres per minute at maximum, the PSA system can give 200 litres per minute. It will come to the state by April 30, installation may take a week to 10 days by mid-May. We will have the third source of oxygen.”

Further, the Bench noted that the state has 63 ambulances. However, there are no details regarding the facilities available in such ambulances, it said. “We are concerned about the non-availability of COVID-19 dedicated and fully-equipped ambulances with oxygen and paramedic support for the district hospitals,” it added.

The court granted a week’s time to the state government to respond to the issues in the form of an affidavit. The matter is now listed for hearing on May 25.