Pvt hospitals ill-equipped for COVID-19 told to temporarily close

Muscat: A number of small private clinics began shuttering across the Sultanate on Tuesday in response to guidelines from the Ministry of Health advising them to suspend operations until they meet a strict set of criteria for managing suspected or confirmed coronavirus infections on their premises.

The measure has hit, in particular, a sizable number of clinics run by Family Physicians and General Practitioners (GPs) which fall short of the standards set by the Ministry to remain open amid intensifying government-driven measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

A circular sent out by the Ministry’s Directorate General of Private Health Establishments on March 29 includes a “checklist” of protocols, facilities, and measures that private hospitals must have in place to help prevent, control and manage suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infections on their premises.

“Private health establishments that are unable to follow the attached coronavirus COVID-19 checklist are required to close their clinics temporarily till they comply with the recommendations,” Dr Mazin bin Jawad al Khabouri, DG – Private Health Establishments, stated in the circular.

A number of small clinics contacted by the Observer lamented they were in no position to meet the prescribed guidelines anytime soon and said they were preparing to cease services with immediate effect.

The checklist includes measures encompassing all aspects of a hospital’s functioning with a bearing on COVID-19 infection prevention and control.  Among other things, it calls for all personnel – healthcare staff, security attendants, and housekeeping staff – to be suitably acquainted with COVID-19 safety and prevention information.

Staff allocated for COVID-19 screening must wear face masks, gloves and disposable aprons, while hospitals are also required to have full personal protection equipment (PPE) available on the premises.  Triage staff should be suitably versed in COVID-19 safety protocol as well.

Additionally, hospitals are also required to have in place thermo-scan devices for measuring body temperatures of visitors, an electronic vital signs machine or device, and a system for segregating patients with flu-like symptoms from other patients.  An isolation room is prescribed for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, with attending healthcare workers wearing full personal protection equipment (PPE).

The prescribed guidelines for staff engaged in triaging functions, the triaging area, the handling of healthcare waste, the transportation of suspected or confirmed cases by ambulance, the handling of linen and laundry, and the collection and handling of lab specimens, are equally stringent.

The latest measure is a further blow to small clinics run by General Practitioners and Family Physicians who have seen their numbers dwindle in recent years as large hospital chains increasingly dominate the private healthcare space in the Sultanate.