The unprecedented cash crunch after demonetisation has impacted a number of private hospitals in Kolkata which have lost a substantial number of foreign patients who were unable to exchange currency.
On November 8, following an announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the central government demonetised Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes, but permitted their use in a few government sectors, including hospitals. However, the private medical facilities, which treat a large chunk of foreign patients, were left out of the bracket.
As a result, while most private hospitals in Kolkata saw a drop in the number of foreign patients, they rolled out initiatives like mobile ATM counters and cheque payments. The payment in foreign currency has also increased manifold since demonetisation.
"Our hospital witnessed an almost 15 percent drop in foreign patients in the first 20-25 days of demonetisation," Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals Chief Executive Officer Rupali Basu said.
"Several initiatives like mobile ATM counters and increased acceptance of cheques from patients have restored normalcy," Basu added. Prior to the ban, the hospital's foreign currency counters saw very few transactions. But the scenario has undergone a sea change ever since.
"We always had a counter for accepting foreign currency but there was not much of a demand as patients used to pay in Indian rupees. But since demonetisation, the deposit of foreign currencies like the US dollar and the Bangladeshi taka have dramatically increased.
"We are presently accepting all foreign currencies as a large chunk of our patients are from Bangladesh,
Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar," said Basu.
Hospitals that limit cashless payment facilities to Indians also witnessed a downslide in the footfall of foreign patients.
"The cheque or online payment facilities in the hospital are solely meant for Indian citizens while the foreigners have to pay by cash. Though we have been accepting foreign currency even prior to demonetisation, there was a stark drop in the number of foreign patients as they were not getting cash," AMRI Hospital CEO Rupak Barua said.
According to Barua, the chaos increased due to the patients' apprehensions after the vastly circulated currency notes were banned overnight.
"The patients were a bit apprehensive about the situation after the sudden demonetisation. The situation is slowly becoming normal with the circulation of new currency," he said.
The problem got magnified for foreigners as money changers in the city were unable to procure adequate rupees from the banks for buying foreign currency due to the acute cash crisis in the initial days after demonetisation. Many of them downed shutters for quite a few days.
The Peerless Hospital in the city's southern outskirts, that receives a sizable amount of Bangladeshi patients for surgeries and daily check-ups, also witnessed a significant drop.
"There was a drop in the number of patients after demonetisation as the patients were not able to exchange their currency at the money exchange counters outside," Peerless Hospital Managing Director Sujit Kar Purakayastha said.
The problems for them compounded as the hospital carried on with its policy of not accepting any form of foreign currency from patients.
"We maintain a policy of not accepting any foreign currency at the cash counter. In case the foreign patients want to pay in their currency, that has to be deposited through a bank. Foreign patients who want to pay by cash have to exchange their respective currency from outside and pay in Indian currency," Purkyastha said.
"Hopefully the situation would improve as the re-circulation of the new currency will be in full flow," he added.