Cocking a snook

There are 46 identified private hospitals with around 800 beds in Delhi which are built on public land allotted to them on concessional rates and as per the orders of the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, they are obliged to provide totally free treatment to the extent of 10 per cent IPD (in patient department) and 25 per cent OPD (out patient department) to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) patients.

The orders came way back in 2002, however, even after 11 years, it cannot be safely said that people from EWS category are getting the benefits that the court had ordered the private hospitals to give them in lieu of the precious land they had got from the government.

There have been number of reports of private hospitals making one after another excuse, sometimes even illogical, to not treat the poor or to harass them to the extent that they leave the hospital. Many hospitals keep saying that their allocated beds for EWS patients remain vacant because they do not come to the private hospitals. One hospital has been repeatedly saying that if they start providing free medicines and consumables to the poor patients, they would become financially non-viable.

According to report of Social Jurist, an NGO on whose petitition the court had ordered free treatment for poor at private hospitals, most of the hospitals are not implementing the Supreme Court and high court orders in true spirit of the order and by and large were reluctant to provide free treatment to EWS patients.

The NGO team, which keeps making frequent visits to these hospitals to see the ground reality, observed that EWS patients are generally given discriminatory treatment resulting in demoralising them from approaching such hospitals again.

As part of its exercise to ascertain the status of free treatment for poor in private hospitals which had got government land at concessional rates, various teams from the NGO visited 16 private hospitals in November. The teams during their visits came across variety of experiences which commonly revealed that none of these hospitals were fully implementing the Supreme Court and high court orders and by and large were reluctant to provide free treatment to EWS patients. They observed that EWS patients are generally given discriminatory treatment resulting in demoralising them to approach such hospitals again. False and illegal excuses are made by the hospitals staff to avoid free treatment to the EWS patients.

They observed that the hospitals treat the EWS patients and the people who accompany them rudely, they refuse to treat EWS patients without any proof of them being poor such as BPL card or income certificate issued by SDM. Whereas, as per the high court order one does not need to produce any such document and a mere undertaking is enough. They also observed that the display boards in many hospitals are not clearly visible and full information is not disclosed on them. They also make the patients wait for long hours and do not help them fill the forms either, they shout at them and discriminate against them at all levels, be it issuance of medicines or just giving a carry bag.

The members of the team it a report said that these private hospitals harass the patients, they do not make or even try to make the patients’ treatment smoother and they keep telling the patients to go to government hospitals for free treatment. Some hospitals have allotted an hour for EWS patients’ treatment and after that hour is past, they do not entertain any EWS patients.

One such report filed by a committee which visited these hospitals reads: ‘When the patient goes to the doctor for diagnosis and does not mention the fact of one being in EWS category the doctor prescribes medicines for a month. After that when the patient goes to the medicine counter and tells them that the patient is from EWS group, the counter attendant tells the patient to go back to the doctor and tell him the same. The doctor then changes the prescription from one month to four days. Moreover, many medicines prescribed earlier are cancelled by the doctor. To get the medicine one has to fill a form along with an Id proof. The staff of the hospital and the pharmacy behave rudely with the patients.’

‘False and illegal excuses are made by the hospitals’ staff to avoid free treatment to the EWS patients. Free medicines are generally denied to them and sometimes, on coming to know that the patient belongs to EWS category, his prescription is changed and some of the medicines earlier prescribed are cancelled. EWS patients are generally entertained on the intervention of Monitoring Committee members. It is literally a herculean task for a poor patient to directly approach the hospital and take free treatment. It is not complete without saying that the ray of hope is still there and justice would be achieved in the due course of time. Poor patients need to assert their rights aggressively, says advocate Ashok Agarwal, who is the member of the Monitoring Committee.

Agarwal says that the Monitoring Committee keeps sending its reports to the Delhi government on private hospitals not implementing the orders of the court on free treatment to poor in true spirit, but the situation has not changed much in all these years.

Millennium Post tried to find the answers from the Delhi government on the issue and the steps it has taken in the past to get the orders of the court implemented on free treatment to EWS patients, but despite various attempts could not get the reply from health secretary. Now with Aam Aadmi Party, which claims to be working for the interest of common man and poor, at the helm of affairs in Delhi, will the situation change on this front? Will the AAP government be able to get the court orders strictly implemented on the private hospitals, which had got government land at concessional rates?
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