CHENNAI: With Tamil Nadu testing around 60,000 samples for COVID-19 daily, which is more than the capacity of government labs, the health department is sending excess samples to private testing facilities to avoid delaying test results. The cost of these tests is being covered under the Chief Minister's Health Insurance Scheme.
As per health department data, there are 59 government and 63 private labs in the state. Following the decision, the waiting period for results has reduced, say officials. Patients are able to get results in a maximum of 48 hours.
"On an average, the government is getting 52,000 to 60,000 samples per day, depending on the caseload. Government labs have the capacity to test only around 50,000 per day and in private labs around 40,000 can be tested. So, to get the results early and avoid backlog, we are sending samples to private labs and getting the cost of the test covered under the Chief Minister's Health Insurance Scheme. In that way, it's free for patients," said a health department official.
Earlier, the government had brought COVID-19 tests under the Chief Minister's Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme. Initially, the cost of the test in private labs was fixed at Rs 2,500 and for home collection Rs 3,000. Now, it has been reduced to Rs 1,500.
Explaining the procedure, another official said government doctors, for example in primary health centres, can refer patients to private labs if they are eligible for CMCHIS. Another way is that staff at the government labs can choose the samples of persons eligible for CMHIS among the samples there and send them to private labs. Then the patient insurance details will be passed on to the private labs.
Samples are collected at fever camps, medical mobile units, medical colleges, government hospitals, primary health centres in rural areas and also private hospitals,
Another official said there was a backlog in Chennai and other districts including Tiruvallur, Virudhunagar, Tenkasi, Tirunelveli and others. This is because of an increase in the testing of samples. For example, Tiruvallur district has the capacity to test only around 300 samples per day. But now the sample size has increased to 5,000 per day, so excess samples have to be diverted to avoid backlog. Now there are no pending samples beyond 48 hours.
There are many reasons for the backlog, say officials. The capacity varies depending on the availability of testing resources like RNA extraction reagents, machines, manpower and other things.
Meanwhile, Dr T S Selvavinayagam, Director of Public Health, claimed the time taken for the results never exceeded 24 hours. "We are monitoring testing in such a way that whenever the time is expected to cross more than 24 hours, we prevent further loading into that particular lab. We monitor how many samples are there and what is the testing capacity of the lab on a daily basis."
About sending samples to private labs, Selvavinayagam said, "The first choice will be government labs. We will send them to private labs only if needed."