The Delhi High Court has been after private hospitals in Delhi to honour their commitments regarding the treatment of the poor, but sadly to no avail. The hospitals are just not willing to treat poor for free, a condition that they agreed to while accepting land from the government at hugely subsidised rates. In-spite of the Delhi high court directing the hospitals time and again to fill up the beds for the poor, the hospitals are dragging their feet by hiding behind every legal loophole that they can find.
For the uninitiated here is the story. As many as 38 private hospitals in the city managed to get land at subsidised rates from the government under the condition that they will treat certain number of poor patients free of cost. The list of these hospitals today read the whose who of the hospitals in the city. However, once these hospitals commenced operations, they never honoured their part of the bargain. Thus the poor continue to be unwelcome in these hospitals, while beds reserved for them either remain empty or are filled up with full paying patients. This needless to say is criminal.
The reasons for this, however are not too difficult to fathom. The business of healthcare is a capital intensive business and the cost of real estate in Delhi is a prohibitively high expense. Thus, getting land from the government at very cheap rates against a commitment of treating the poor once the hospital starts, seems to be a good way of grabbing land. I seriously doubt that any of these private hospitals had any intention of treating the poor to begin with. This was just a ploy to grab land to build the hospital.
Now with the hospital up and running they had to find excuses to wriggle out of the commitment made. Here is a sample of what the hospitals have been saying. A large 600 bed hospital sitting on prime land in south Delhi and part of the largest hospital chain in the country claims that they are unable to treat the poor because they can not find them! As per them the government needs to refer poor patients to the hospital, and since there has hardly been any government referrals, they can not fill up the beds reserved for the poor. They further claim that ‘free’ to them means a free bed and the patient has to pay for all other expenses, thus making the hospital out of reach of the poor. (Mercifully, this claim has now been thrown out of the window by the high court). Other hospitals too advance similar claims. Strangely many do not offer any reason for not filling up these beds.
A recent report in The Times of India indicates that 16 of these 38 hospitals have not even bothered to submit details of the status of their free beds to the government. Hospitals like Dharmshila Cancer Hospital and the Jaipur Golden Hospital have submitted that all their free beds are empty. The Times of India report also alludes to a nexus between the health officials of the government and these hospitals. The health officials refer their kith and kin or their political masters to these hospitals and they are treated free against the beds meant for the poor.
While all this has been going on for many years, some public spirited Non Governmental Organisations have moved the courts. The high court has made all the right noises but justice is yet to be done. While the cases against these hospitals meander in our courts, the poor, as always continue to suffer silently.
Pic courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/9019392@N08/552358084/