The Association of Private Medical Laboratories (APML) has warned of the possibility of widespread wrong diagnosis of diseases and treatment leading to avoidable deaths.
This dangerous trend is due to the absence of a law to enforce guidelines, standards and codes of practice to regulate private medical laboratories in the country.
The immediate past president of the association, Mr Otuo Adade-Boateng, who raised the red flag in an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, said the lack of regulation was also hampering the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Currently, any individual with or without the know-how but is desirous of entering the business, could establish a medical laboratory without any licence or authorisation.
However, the Ministry of Health says it is in the process of developing guidelines, standards and codes of practice to regulate private medical laboratories in the country under an Allied Health Bill.
According to the acting Chief Director of the Ministry of Health, Madam Salimata Abdul-Salam, the ministry had prepared an Allied Health Bill to be presented to the Cabinet and subsequently to Parliament for approval.
Some health professionals have described the trend as a very dangerous phenomenon which must be regulated immediately to ensure that unlicensed health facilities do not qualify as service providers under the National Health Insurance Scheme and put the health of premium holders at risk.
Explaining further, Madam Abdul-Salam said the bill, when passed into law, would regulate the industry and weed out charlatans and expressed the hope that the law would be promulgated by the end of this year.
On steps being taken to bring sanity into the operations of private medical laboratories, Mr Adade-Boateng said the organisation drafted its own guidelines but could not enforce them because they were not backed by law.
He said the issue was serious because the laboratories also dealt with blood samples and the infiltration of quacks and unqualified persons could lead to contamination and affect the fight against HIV, AIDS and other diseases.
In recent times, some members of the public have had cause to complain about the services rendered by some of these laboratories.
Ms Docea Quashie-Asiedu, a resident of Accra, in a recent letter to the Daily Graphic said she had two tests from different laboratories in Accra recently.
According to her, one of the results showed that she belonged to a particular blood group while the other showed that she belonged to another blood group.
Commenting on the concern raised by Ms Quashie-Asiedu, Mr Adade-Boateng said if an individual belonging to one blood group was transfused with another type of blood, he or she would die within an hour.
Mr Adade-Boateng said: "We have fought very hard over the years to have this industry regulated because of the effect the operations of charlatans would have on the public but to no avail."
He said the "battle" began in 1973 when some operators sought to get the Ministry of Health to provide some form of regulation but that failed.
He said from the 1990s until today, some individuals in the industry had called for guidelines and the establishment of a regulatory body along the lines of the Ghana Medical and Dental Council (GMDC) and added that it. Was only recently that the ministry appeared to have initiated moves in that direction.
"As of now, anybody can get up, bring some equipment in and start operating a medical laboratory in the country. There is no body to check whether the person is qualified, the personnel working there are qualified or whether the equipment meet standards," he said.
He said if the new bill came into being, a council would be established to regulate the industry and would also have the power to close down sub-standard medical laboratories.
"We will be empowered under the law to come to your lab, inspect equipment, staff, enquire about their qualification and issue licences. We will be empowered to cause your prosecution if we have reason to believe you are not qualified," he said.
Responding to the concerns expressed by the. APML, Ms Salimata Abdul-Salam, in an interview, said while awaiting the promulgation of the Health Allied Bill, the ministry was establishing a committee to deal with the concerns of the public.
But the General Secretary of the association, Mr Kwame Akyea, was sceptical about the promulgation of the bill into law anytime soon.
He said there was an apparent reluctance on the part of the ministry to speed up work on the bill and wondered why such delays.
Mr Akyea said medical laboratories were very vital links in the health chain, since wrong laboratory investigations, could lead to preventable deaths.
"If a laboratory does not produce the right results, the doctors will not give the right drugs and patients will die," he stated.