Pvt hospitals have a point PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 May 2020 00:00
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The Centre, following reports of widespread denial of healthcare— chiefly by private hospitals—from across the country, last week notified all states and Union Territories of the need to ensure that hospitals continue to provide essential healthcare services like immunisation, cancer treatment and dialysis. The Delhi government has even told hospitals that denying treatment would mean cancellation of their registration, while the Maharashtra government has warned of action under the Epidemic Act. Indeed, the government of Andhra Pradesh preemptively invoked the Act to commandeer private hospitals to bolster Covid-19 treatment capacity. The Centre had earlier laid out guidelines on private hospitals earmarking a portion of their facilities for Covid-19 hospitalisation while continuing to offer hospitalisation for other illnesses, but there have been reports of private hospitals denying care to both suspected Covid-19 cases and cases where the patient was seeking treatment for some other disease. There have also been reports of hospitals insisting on Covid-19 testing for patients seeking admission—the Centre has asked the states to prevent this, too.

While patients requiring urgent medical attention for life-threatening diseases can’t be made to wait, the fact is that, without appropriate screening (especially against a backdrop of the wide range of symptoms that Covid-19 shares with other diseases), hospitals will be putting healthcare personnel at risk of contracting the disease. With India short of 6 lakh doctors and 20 lakh nurses, it is clear that every medical/paramedical hand is a crucial resource at the moment, especially with the lockdown lifted in the manner it has been. Against a shortage of personal protective equipment, including the right masks, the government orders on admitting patients and no mandatory testing pose a devil-and-deep-sea situation for hospitals. Adding to the hospitals’ plight is the fact that the government had advised against regular out-patient consultations and non-emergency or elective surgery. This, amongst other factors, has caused a 70-80% footfall reduction in private hospitals, apart from a 50-70% fall in revenue in the last 10 days of March, as per a Ficci-EY study. To be sure, the big hospitals, with cash reserves that can allow them to bear the temporary pain, shouldn’t be turning people away citing lack of PPE etc. But, the smaller players, for whom such erosion of revenue is likely to be debilitating, may not simply be in a position to take on the risks of admitting patients without testing for Covid-19.

The government needs to tweak its protocol to allow wider antigen-based testing—even if it limits this to the testing of patients seeking hospital admission—so that hospitals can be sure that their personnel are not exposed without due protection. Hospitals must admit emergency patients; but the government also needs to ensure that risks are minimised, by getting the PPE supply chain in order and relooking its testing strategy.


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