The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the unacceptable state of India’s healthcare in an unprecedented way. While government hospitals have always come under heavy criticism for – the quality of medical care, the neglect of their premises, the sorry state of their infrastructure, the unavailability of essential medical supplies, for instance, lack of oxygen cylinders resulted in the deaths of several infants in the U.P incident – the Covid-19 pandemic has forced them to face a severe acid test owing to the sheer scale and the speed with which its affecting the populace, and without diligent administration, radical reforms and improvements the sector would fail its own people at a time when they depend on it the most. At the same time private hospitals have a duty of care towards people especially in this pandemic situation and they need government’s support, mandate and regulation to jointly handle public health. Currently more than 8.5 lakhs people have been affected by the virus and the death toll has surpassed 23,000 in India.
Medical professionals have been rightly appreciated for their dedication, but the government can do more than shower flowers from the skies and beat trumpets on the ground. They need more support in the form of PPE kits, medical equipment supplies, multiple facilities to treat the growing number of cases and support of a larger number of trained staff. National treasury and financial aid received from several countries, including private individuals into PM’s and CM’s Funds must be generously and swiftly utilised for purchase of ventilators, oxygen supplies and essential equipments, creation of new facilities, ICUs and isolation wards.
Several hospitals and their frontline medical staff have complained of non-availability of beds, ventilators and oxygen supplies while denying treatment and turning away patients from their hospitals. Recently, a pregnant woman in New Delhi was turned away by at least 8 hospitals before she and her unborn died as a result. Cases of several others, from Thane to Bangaluru to Hyderabad to Delhi, have been reported where hospitals, including government-run facilities, turned away patients for either non-availability of beds or for lack of critical care facilities and ventilators. While few States reported to have about 90% beds vacant in government hospitals, the question is how many beds with critical care are available? Why are incidents of people being turned away by hospitals still being reported? A video of a man from Hyderabad dying just outside a private hospital recently went viral showing the apathy of hospitals and healthcare authorities.
People who have died after being turned away by hospitals are reported to have lost valuable time running from one private hospital to the other for want of a bed. While there is reportedly enough vacancy in government hospitals why do people still prefer private hospitals? Even MLAs, Councillors, government doctors and bureaucrats who have taken ill to the virus have avoided public hospitals. The stark reality is people do not want to go to government hospital to die. They have developed a strong mistrust of government hospitals due to lack of reliable medical care, poor state of facilities, inefficiency, lack of essential medical supplies and equipments, and fear of contracting other diseases, for instance, several hospitals have become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. While civic authorities have failed to do their job on the streets the nuisance has not been prevented from entering hospitals. Has the substandard public healthcare been overlooked because the poor are using it? With shortage of beds in private hospitals and growing number of Covid cases will public hospitals receive the proper attention that has been long overdue?
The private healthcare sector is not without faults. Private hospitals are perceived as dishonest, money-making “businesses” that use fear psychosis to force pointless extensive testing and redundant expensive care. Owing to complaints of “astronomical bills” and “extortionate” pricing in private hospitals, the Government has capped Covid costs that these hospitals can charge. Hospitals have argued, among other points, that only people who can afford their services come to them so there was no reason for government interference. With private hospitals already denying beds to those they perceive would not be able to pay up, just like they put patients with health insurance on a waiting list and patients with advance cash on the beds, would government interference with their pricing be desirable? If the government really wants to rescue people from the virus and the costs, could it not achieve better results by revamping its own healthcare establishments? Or do private hospitals indeed need that bit of government regulation so both could pool their resources for the sake of public health? In any case, the government must act in the interests of the public and do so swiftly.