September 27, 2009

Free treatment: Private hospitals in New Delhi under the lens

After the High Court lashed out at Apollo Hospital for not treating poor patients for free which was a condition for the hospital being given land at a discounted rate Delhi government health department has suddenly woken up to the rampant violation of the clause by almost all private hospitals who were given such land.

It has now decided to post officials in all these hospitals who will not just monitor the status and utilization of these beds but also as instructed by the High Court inform patients in government hospitals about the option. At present, few needy patients ever go to these hospitals for fear of running up massive medical bills.

Apollo was on Tuesday pulled up for not treating 33% patients free of cost. With Apollo's bed strength it should ideally have 200 beds where everything including medicines are provided by the hospital. The hospital for getting 15 acres land free of cost and an additional Rs 16 crore from the government is also supposed to have 40% OPD patients free which the HC found is also being violated.

Health minister Kiran Walia said: "These hospitals have such an aura that poor patients are scared to go there. That is where these officials will come in. We will ask patients from government hospitals to meet designated officials in each hospital who will help them with their paperwork and see that they get their due.''

While Apollo's case is striking partly because of the huge numbers involved, one glance at the health department's records and it is clear that Apollo is not the only offender. It is clear that few of the 38-odd hospitals who were given land at concessional rates bother to inform the health department about the status of these free beds and as health department sources point out, the government's initiatives to get the information have not traditionally been very aggressive. This, despite the fact that the boards of all these hospitals have the chief secretary, finance secretary and health secretary as members.

As many as 16 hospitals including well-known names like Dharamshila Hospital and Research Centre, Jaipur Golden Hospital and Sunderlal Jain Charitable Hospital have not submitted details of the occupancy status of free beds.

Health department sources say there is usually a "happy understanding'' between hospitals and the government on free beds which being hospital's usually honour "requests'' from senior officials politicians etc and at times in their records show these patients as having been admitted under the free bed scheme. "This serves both sides and has been continuing all this while. In fact the case in which the ruling has come has been going on for many years now,'' explained an official.

Health department's latest records for the status of free beds shows in Dharamshila all 20 are vacant, in Flt Rajan Dhall Hospital (Fortis) and Rockland, each of their 11 free beds are vacant, in Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre 21 of 26 beds are vacant and in Jaipur Golden, all 26 free beds are vacant. Venu Eye Institute, however, is a welcome deviation with 63 free patients admitted against its quota of 42 beds.

"One thing that Apollo really stood out in was that they made completely different setups for free beds where there was not enough medical care. This no other hospital did,'' said Walia who says it was her initiative after taking charge of the health department that brought Apollo to book. The PIL on which Tuesday's verdict came was filed by NGO Social Jurist in the mid-nineties.

Link: Original Article

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