Hospitals are Abattoirs


Mamata Banerjee's recent move to initiate measures against the unscrupulous private hospitals and nursing homes, which are run on profit-making basis, is not unwelcome. The media reports that are now regularly pouring in testify to such practices. This activism was however triggered off by an incident at the well known private hospital, Calcutta Medical Reasearch Institute (CMRI). An angry mob demonstrated in protest against the death, allegedly due to negligence on the part of doctors, of a young man and behaved in a less than orderly manner. A few persons were arrested, but complaints against such malpractices began to pile up, forcing the chief minister to take note of the situation and to warn the authorities of such frightfully expensive hospitals and nursing homes. In this sense, the irate mob unconsciously performed a social function. Some of the media reports are horrifying and heart-rending.

It is a fact that barring some exceptions, such hospitals and nursing homes behave with patient parties in an extremely avaricious manner. The ways they artificially inflate the costs of treatment and thereby enhance their profits are various; the list is too long to be dwelt on here. This kind of robbery often makes the patient parties go bankrupt. This is not a new phenomenon. With the decline in humanitarian value senses, it has however, assumed a higher and larger dimension. One may call it one of the effects of globalisation.

One pertinent point is : why do patient parties with modest means go to such hospitals / nursing homes that are ordinarily beyond their means to afford? There are two possible answers to this question. One is that government hospitals do not have the necessary number of beds and often necessary equipments, including life-saving drugs, are found in short supply, and getting a patient admitted is often a cumbersome process involving much time and energy. Besides, many doctors appointed at government hospitals are more interested in private practices and other pursuits of self-interest than in attending to their duties at hospitals from which they draw their regular salaries. The second reason is advertising. Large money bags spend huge sums on advertising, dazzling the people about the efficacy of treatment in private hospitals. To make matters worse, touts are roaming about everywhere, even in block-level hospitals and exploiting patients by various means. When it becomes a matter of life and death, relatives of patients take the risk of spending beyond their normal means, because they do not have much faith in government hospitals and they are influenced by the dazzles of advertising. It may be recalled that a few years ago, Anil Biswas, the then state secretary of the ruling CPI(M), had to be admitted to a private hospital where he breathed his last at the relatively premature age of fifty-nine. One relatively recent example, extremely tragic in its consequence, may be cited. A little later than two years ago, a young girl died in the leading government hospital, SSKM. The attending doctor had asked the patient party to procure blood from outside for saving the life of the patient. When blood was procured, the doctor was found absent. He could be contacted after a considerable lapse of time, and he replied that he was too busy to come to attend the patient, although he was perfectly aware that it was illegitimate to infuse blood into the patient's body in his absence. This act of criminal negligence was reported in detail in the leading daily of Bengal and an inquiry committee was formed. The committee also reported negligence, but the offender got away with impunity. This episode shows that the present ruling dispensation has not always behaved scrupulously in this respect. So, punishing just a few hospitals and nursing homes is not enough. What is required is a widespread movement on the part of the civil society.

Vol. 49, No.37, Mar 19 - 25, 2017