August 12, 2009

Private hospitals reluctant to join battle against H1N1

Despite Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s virtual threat on Tuesday to private hospitals being clear — start isolation wards for the treatment of H1N1 swine flu patients or face legal action under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the private sector hospitals, which control 70% of the country’s health infrastructure, continue to be reluctant to pitch in.

They have cited a number of 'justifications’ for their reluctance, including the absence of isolation wards, common air-conditioning as well as the doubtful revenue model. In turn, this has triggered anger in the government which feels that these hospitals were quick to seek concessions like cheap land but very slow to react to an unexpected medical emergency.

Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit called an emergency meeting of city private hospitals. Barring Max and Batra hospitals, all of them showed little eagerness to treat H1N1 patients and trotted out excuses. Two private pathological labs who were also called for the meeting, were said to be willing to carry out tests.

Dikshit described the meeting as a "stock-taking exercise to evaluate the capability and infrastructure of private hospitals and to what extent they were willing to help us deal with the pandemic. Once the Centre issues guidelines we will draw up a plan to rope in private hospitals."

Speaking to TOI, a Union health ministry official said, “Private hospitals have no choice. States will identify the hospitals with the capacity to have a large isolation ward. It’s just a backup. What if the government’s infrastructure gets saturated? Don’t private hospitals have any responsibility towards the people?"

The labs said they already have the golden Real Time PCR H1N1 testing kits. However, they wanted a relaxation of the rules. “According to the present stipulation, only bio safety level-II plus labs can test samples for H1N1. We have BSL II labs. The government should consider them good enough for testing.”

The government was not interested in setting down charges for private hospitals. An official said, "It’s not that private hospitals won’t be allowed to charge money. It’s up to them what they charge. But they should at least provide the facility for those who want to go to a private hospital."

Link: Original Article

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