Despite Delhi High Court ruling and government directives, Delhi's private hospitals do not reserve 10 percent beds for poor patients.
Private specialty hospitals often refuse to offer free beds to poor patients
“We can’t afford expensive treatment in hospitals so we never fall sick”, says Mohan Yadav, a cycle rickshaw puller, with a sarcastic smile. He starts his day from Gangaram Hospital in central Delhi and pulls rickshaw in and around Karol Bagh area, which has several of city’s reputed private hospitals. Mohan’s sarcasm is not without reason. In spite of Delhi government’s directive regarding reservation of beds in private hospitals for the poor and needy, most hospitals do not allow the poor patients to avail the reservation. Instead, the beds reserved for the poor are either offered to those patients who are willing to pay through their nose or kept aside for those who are politically connected or have relatives in powerful posts.
Though few private hospitals claim they are doing more than required by law, but refuse to co-operate when asked to furnish a written document which could prove the same. Jessa Ram hospital in Karol Bagh, which comes under Fortis group of hospitals, simply denied showing any document regarding the same. “We have ten beds reserved for patients coming from humble background, what else can be done,” said the Public Relations Officer of the same hospital, refusing to inform how many of these beds are being used by poor.
Delhi High Court had directed all private hospitals long back in 2007, to offer free treatment to people having an income of less than Rs. 2,000 per month. The court had stated that private hospitals, which had been given land at concession rate in Delhi, must not bill patients from such families.
“We had to sell our land in Bihar for my treatment. It was the only asset we had back home. How much a daily wage laborer can save from meager earning? It will take me years to earn back the amount charged by the hospital”
According to Puneet Kumar, nodal officer, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital, the administration has been forwarding the updates and list of patients who have been treated for free to Directorate of Health Services (DTH). “We have been strictly following the norms set by the court, right from reserving beds to update DTH with anything concerning the issue”, added Mr Kumar, without divulging details.
Big name like Max Healthcare had their own arguments against making the reservation available at each of their hospitals. “We do all what is required but this facility is available only at selective branches”, says Jolly Ahuja, PRO Max Health Care.
Naturally, when healthcare is a highly profitable business, expecting hospital managements to serve the needy may be asking too much. But keeping aside only 10 percent beds and offering free treatment to the extremely poor wouldn’t push them into red. After all, to serve the patient remains their prime duty. However, the pathetic state of public healthcare has led to mushrooming of private hospitals, big and small, who make huge profits every year but claim all government benefits for serving the society. Many hospitals chains keep policymakers in good humour and influence government policies and their implementation to ensure their business interests do not get affected. This nexus further marginalizes poor and deprived who have no say and role to play in public healthcare.
While many poor remain ignorant of the reservation facility, but those in the know say private hospitals have some or other excuse to refuse poor patients, as was exposed by a news channel. Reputed hospitals had illogical excuses to refuse treatment to the poor, but the message was loud and clear across Delhi. A poor patient is left on her fate. The denial may not be outright. The hospitals either misled or gave inaccurate information to deny reservation facility to the poor patients who urgently needed medical attention.
“We had to sell our land in Bihar for my treatment. It was the only asset we had back home. How much a daily wage laborer can save from meager earning? It will take me years to earn back the amount charged by the hospital”, says Mahesh, who met with an accident and was admitted to Max Health Care in emergency and had to shell out thousands for his treatment and several of the tests that followed. He is not alone. Exorbitant healthcare costs are emerging as major cause of pushing people into abject poverty and debt. Unfortunately, the growth rate obsessed government offers only serves lip service to the aam admi, already burdened by uncontrolled rise in prices of basic services and food items.
Ragini Shankar Sinha
Ragini Shankar Sinha is a reporter with d-sector.org.