Facing staff crisis, pathlabs come under pressure

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on May 06, 2021

But still manage to stay afloat by adding more machines, hiring fresh hands

Overwhelmed by the increasing demand for RT-PCR tests during the ongoing pandemic, private pathlabs are devising new ways to cater to the requirements of desperate customers who are eager to have their test results without much delay.

Drive-through centres

Last week, Apollo Diagnostics, part of Apollo Health & Lifestyle Pvt Ltd, opened their drive-through sample collection centres in Hyderabad and Pune. The Gurugram-headquartered SRL Diagnostics has been running one such drive-through collection centre in Chandigarh since July last year, and it opened another one in Gurugram Sector 29 recently.

“We are also in talks with local administration authorities in major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai to plan such drive-throughs. They immensely help to cater to more needy customers. Those who need a test do not have to leave the safe and sanitised confines of their vehicle for giving the sample,” said K Anand, CEO of SRL Diagnostics. This, he said, would reduce the pressures on home collection. “A person doing home collection can at best do only 70 to 80 sample collections a day,” he added.

SRL, which witnessed a three-fold surge in demand for RT-PCR tests since early March, also plans to open five additional facilities in cities they do not have one at present. This is in addition to adding new equipment in many of its existing 15 RT-PCR facilities. “We currently do nearly 35,000 RT-PCR tests across our centres daily,” said Anand.

Ameera Shah, Managing Director of Metropolis Healthcare Ltd, which has over 125 pathological labs across the country, said: “In 2020, if you look at the testing trends, India had its testing peak in September 2020. Compared to the peak in September, the industry has witnessed a two to three times surge in demand since March.”

Demand for RT-PCR

Dr Lal Pathlabs, another major pathlab chain in the country, said during the second Covid wave, they witnessed the demand for RT-PCR more than doubling. “In April, the demand has been more than double compared to the previous month. As we witnessed a sharp surge in the RT-PCR test from the first week of April, we amplified our services to meet the soaring demand,” said a spokesperson for the pathlab chain.

According to Anand, SRL’s RT-PCR facilities are currently running at 70 to 75 per cent capacity. With five more RT-PCR centres planned at Lucknow, Surat, Jaipur, Himachal Pradesh and Calicut, they would be able to carry out more tests.

While the Covid-19 situation continues to be grim across most States, pathlabs said they have been able to reduce the turnaround time through better planning, hiring fresh manpower, and adding new machines. Most of these labs work round the clock in three shifts. The biggest problem faced by them is the sudden shoratge in manpower, caused mainly due to the trained personnel, including phlebotomists, getting infected by the virus.

Anand said the situation has now improved when it comes to the time required for getting the RT-PCR reports. “In places such as Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Chennai, the report is delivered in 24 hours, but workload is high in places such as Bengaluru and Kolkata where it is moving from 24 to 48 hours,” said Anand.

Shah of Metropolis agreed: “We have seen the surge in different cities at different times. Mumbai witnessed a surge from last week of March up to mid-April. Delhi NCR saw a surge from the beginning of April and now for the past two weeks Bengaluruand Chennai have witnessed a surge. Other tier-2 cities such as Rajkot, Surat, Nashik, Nagpur have also witnessed testing peaks.”

The insistence on RT-PCR negative result before inter-States travel by some States also led to an increase in demand, the SRL CEO said. The Indian Council of Medical Research’s advisory on Tuesday that inter-State travel does not require an RT-PCR negative report, coupled with doing away with repeated RT-PCR test to be done by confirmed Covid-19 would really help ease the load on the centres, Anand said.

Published on May 06, 2021

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