KOLKATA: Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has declared that patients will get free treatment in all government hospitals and health centers across the State, other than Medical Colleges in Kolkata.
Ms. Banerjee said the decision will benefit nearly 76 per cent of people in Bengal who avail treatment at government hospitals. According to an order issued by the Department of Health and Family Welfare on Wednesday, “user charges in all the secondary and primary hospitals of the State” will be withdrawn. The order says that patients will get free diagnostics, pathology, therapeutic and surgeries along with free beds.
In her post on a social networking site on Wednesday, Ms. Banerjee said: “There will be no bed charges for patients, even in …CCU (critical care unit) and Cabins of Government Hospitals up to District level.” She claimed that all people — Scheduled Caste, Schedule Tribe, Other Backward Classes, from above and below the poverty line and from the minority community — will benefit from the measure. Ms. Banerjee heads the health department.
Hoax, says CPI (M)
The decision, however, has raised questions whether the State has adequate infrastructure to handle the likely increase in the number of patients in government hospitals and health centres. Alleging that no facilities of diagnostic checking are available at primary health centres and block level hospitals, senior Communist Party of India-Marxist(CPI-M) and MP Md. Salim dubbed the decision as a “hoax and an attempt to hoodwink the people.”
Health department optimistic
However, Principal Secretary of the Department of Health and Family Welfare Malay Kumar De claimed that the State Government has taken “adequate measures” to strengthen health infrastructure to handle the estimated increase in the number of patients. He said that in the last three years government has increased 12,000 beds in State run hospitals.
“About 13,000 more beds will be available next year with the completion of 40 super-speciality hospitals in Bengal,” Mr. De told The Hindu on Thursday. Regarding additional expenditure owing to free services, Mr De said that the government has already budgeted the project. However, many of the experts associated with public health in the state is questioning the decision.
Prior to the order, the revenue earned from paying beds in State run hospitals went to the concerned Patient Welfare Committee that utilised it to improve the hospitals’ infrastructure. Health experts are wondering that now that the paying beds are turned into free ones, how the Patients Welfare Committee will function.
Mr. De, however, said that under the Rashtriya Swahthya Bima Yojna (RSBY) patients can avail free treatment at enlisted hospitals of up to Rs. 30,000 which is paid back to the concerned hospital authorities by insurance companies. “In Bengal about 2.50 crore people are under RSBY. So the Patients Welfare Committee will get much more revenue than it used to get from paying beds,” he added.
Health activists unsure
Health activists, however, claim that financially backward patients have to cough up money to middlemen to avail the free medical services under the RSBY. “To avail the facility one has to get written permission from the concerned hospital superintendent. Touts charge money from patients for this,” said noted health activist Punyabrata Gun. He pointed out that State Government is converting many of the existing diagnostic facilities to public-private-partnership (PPP) model. Interestingly, the concerned government order will not be “applicable to any diagnostic, imaging, pathological and testing services by private partners in PPP agreement with the Department.”