Regulate private hospitals: Must check fleecing of patients at all times - The Tribune India

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Regulate private hospitals

Must check fleecing of patients at all times

Regulate private hospitals

Photo for representation only.

India’s private healthcare industry provides vital services to those who can afford to pay for them as the country’s public healthcare system is overburdened, understaffed and wholly inadequate. But, unfortunately, the private healthcare industry is just that — an industry with focus on profits. This fact has been underscored countless times over the last 20 months, since the Covid-19 pandemic struck us. To protect their citizens from those private hospitals that have no scruples in trying to prise the very last rupee out of a patient’s grasp, governments across the country, from time to time, notified the maximum permissible cost of treatment for Covid-19. However, complaints have continued to pour in from customers who allege, among other things, that they were forced to pay more than the notified rates, made to make payments in cash, and told to deposit money before patients could be admitted.

Now the Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Central Government on a private petition that seeks the formation of an audit mechanism for complaints from Covid-19 patients or their caregivers, who allege that private hospitals fleeced them. In the past too, the Supreme Court was forced to intervene on such matters, going to the extent of commenting: ‘Hospitals survive on human distress... It has become a big industry at the cost of human suffering.’ However, judging from reports of overcharging from across the country, it is clear that for many hospital managements, the lure of money trumps the fear of law. Even in these times of terrible human suffering, a large number of hospitals place profits over medical ethics.

Why, even in non-pandemic times, the misery of patients and their caregivers cannot be discounted — private hospitals are known for their exorbitant rate cards, starting right from high parking charges. Freeing patients and attendants from the clutches of unscrupulous hospitals, and keeping them under close scrutiny, should be a priority of governments at the Centre and states at all times — and not only during a pandemic. That can be possible if the public health infrastructure is strengthened and modernised — this, in turn, can only be done by drastically increasing public health spending, which presently is just over 1% of our annual GDP.

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