Sanjay Mandal, TT, ♦ Two private hospitals in Calcutta have been told by their majority investors that if the Bengal government takes an "antagonistic" stand towards private health care, they will either pull out or put on hold all expansion plans. "Just like the trade unionism of the previous government had chased out industry from Bengal, the present government's hostility could force some private nursing homes to exit Bengal," said a hospital official.
♦ Senior doctors at three private hospitals have told officials they will not admit or operate on critically ill patients. "Who will risk beatings by goons or wrongful arrest for trying to save a life?" a doctor said.
♦ Nursing homes on the fringes of Calcutta are refusing to treat critical patients. Some are saying their critical care equipment are malfunctioning. "If any patient dies in the ICU, the nursing home would be ransacked by a mob or the doctors would face arrest. The only way out is to refer critical patients to government health centres," said a nursing home official.
Mamata Banerjee's bill to rein in private health care facilities has struck such a note of fear that Bengal is staring at a situation where critical patients may soon be denied treatment anywhere other than government hospitals.
The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017, is aimed at setting up a commission that will decide the charges for treatment in private hospitals and look into complaints of medical negligence and over-billing.
The commission will be government-appointed, and government hospitals and doctors will be out of its purview, something private hospitals and doctors are now calling "unfair and unethical" in private. In public, they are too scared to speak.
Several private hospitals have welcomed a regulatory mechanism but said it should be an "independent body" empowered to adjudicate on complaints against both private and government facilities.
Unless that happens, one hospital CEO said, "Critical patients, whose treatment involves a certain amount of risk, will be denied treatment by our best doctors."
Doctors' body IMA (Indian Medical Association) expressed the same concern. "How can only private doctors be brought under a commission and government hospital doctors kept out of its purview?" asked K.K. Aggarwal, its national president.
The IMA is mulling legal action against the bill. Aggarwal said IMA officials were meeting legal experts on the implications of the bill.
Kunal Saha, the doctor whose crusade against negligent doctors had led to a landmark compensation case, said on Monday that it was "unfair" to have different yardsticks for government doctors and private doctors.
Saha, now president of People for Better Treatment (PBT), a voluntary organisation fighting for patients' rights, said in a statement: "Do poor patients who suffer and die in government hospitals have no worth of their lives?"
He added: "(The Bengal) bill has specifically excluded all government doctors and hospitals from any pro-patient provisions. Ironically, more than 70 per cent of Bengal patients, mostly from the poor socio-economic background, are compelled to attend government hospitals due to high treatment cost in private hospitals. The rate of medical negligence or ethical malpractice is perhaps more in government hospitals."
The IMA's Aggarwal pointed out that the new bill was not a replacement for the consumer protection act. "So, a doctor or a hospital found guilty in one case may be fined twice - once by the consumer forum and again by the commission," said Aggarwal. "These points need to be debated."