A law to regulate the work and charges at private hospitals was passed some years ago, but it appears that the law is not being implemented for obvious reasons, and most private hospitals have become big business operations with some of them imposing five-star charges.
The privatisation of the health sector began in a small way about 40 years ago, when the Government allowed channel practice. At that time when a patient wished to channel a doctor at a private hospital, the charge was Rs.25 – Rs.20 for the doctor and Rs.5 for the hospital. Today the fee has boomed to between Rs.1000 and Rs.2000 for a consultant and at least Rs.500 as the hospital fee. Only a precious few patient-friendly doctors still uphold the Hippocratic Oath.
Often such consultations end in less than five minutes. The patient is then given a prescription for four or five medicinal drugs, often under brand names which are expensive, though the law specifies that the generic name also must be written. These and other principles of ethical practices are outlined in a sixteen-point charter of Patients’ Rights and Responsibilities. This charter, with 12 rights and four responsibilities for patients, was worked out by the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) in consultation with the Law and Society Trust (LST).
The draft was handed over to the Health Minister who solemnly promised to implement it, but like so many other patient-friendly proposals it has probably been dumped under some sick bed of the ministry.
Beside high consultation fees and the prescription of expensive drugs, many specialists are also often encouraged or persuaded by hospital authorities to prescribe non-essential tests for patients. One big hospital did something outrageous when it wrote to cardiologists saying they would get a commission of 10% if they recommended a patient for heart by-bypass surgery in that hospital. Fortunately one horrified doctor exposed this to the media, and the unethical practice was stopped. The same hospital, some years ago, installed an expensive scanning machine and the specialists were told that about 50 scans would have to be done each day for the hospital to regain the money it had spent to buy the scanning machine. So the specialists had no option but to prescribe scans and a hospital official admitted that about 50% of those scans were not essential and were intended to increase the profits of the hospital instead of ensuring the wellbeing of the patient.
So it goes on. High consultation fees, expensive drugs, non-essential tests and often five-star hotel rates for warded patients. With some Government VIPs also having invested in the big hospital business, it seems that the wealth of the hospital owners is being given priority over the health of the patients, and we are supposed to believe this is part of a sacred vocation. God save the health service.