Sunday, June 15, 2008

How to best change Government hospitals

This topic is hugely debatable. There are various angles and viewpoints. In definite terms, there is no one quick fix.

I am sure almost every citizen of the country has had one time or the other dealt with a government hospital for some reason or the other. In the first place, there are no surgical equipments. There is no proper supply of essential medicines, blood, beds. The free food given is so worse that it will put you back into the hospital. There is no sincerity in serving the people on the part of doctors. In fact, doctors are not present. The ratio of beds to patients is abysmal. Corruption is rampant. The word "free" is real only when money is paid. The situation is so atrocious that even to get a dead body out of the hospital you need to bribe. The moratorium is so unorganized that literally the clerks/peons put dead bodies like a heap of ash. There is utter chaos. To get admission, to get medicine, to get diagnosis - bribe. Perhaps, the Telugu movie Ganesh is the only movie I remember that showed a barbaric reality of government hospitals in a touching manner. Go to Victoria or Bowring hospital in Bangalore. You will find used scissors, knives (surgical operations) not even washed or sterilized and being used again. Some have rusted, some are blunt, some do not even exist. This was shown when Lok Ayukta once conducted a surprise raid.

Once, Narendra Modi gave a proposal to private hospitals about Chiranjeevi scheme. More can be read in Modi's governance articles on my blog. After its success, the government came up with another idea. The govt (Narendra Modi) asked private hospitals to manage govt ones w.r.t infrastructure, recruiting doctors and supply of essential medicines. The funding will be given by the government. Is this a good proposal?

To answer this, I admit to the reader that I am neither a doctor nor anyone even closely connected to this profession. I am just an ordinary citizen. I feel there is merit in the idea that private hospitals should manage infrastructure and recruitment aspects of the govt ones. Complete privatization is not going to help. If it were to help, many people would not have turned away from private hospitals. It is too expensive. Yes, there is a higher probability of a better, quality treatment. In our country, where 3/4th of the people do not even have access to hospitals and health care, it is easy to set up government hospitals than private ones. But then, because of all problems mentioned above, the confidence in these hospitals or its staff is so poor. Yet people go as they have no option. What if private hospitals were to manage some of these things?

This will improve things to a very great extent even if not everything. Firstly, you will have the required equipment that could be used either for diagnosis or treatment. Secondly, you will at least have a system of supply of medicines. Thirdly, it will give hope that qualified doctors come into the picture. All 3 aspects are 3 pillars of success of a government hospital. The fourth and the hidden pillar is the corruption. This is a far deeper and complex issue. I will not claim that private ones are the best or corrupt free, but they definitely offer a better alternative. However, if qualified professionals are recruited, it will allay the fears of a common man about govt hospitals. Infrastructure should range from beds, wards, sanitation, maintenance, testing facilities, diagnostic equipments, cleaner labs etc.

The govt should give tax rebates and incentives for those doctors who serve in the govt hospitals. As a matter of fact, there should be a synergy between private doctors and govt ones. Private doctors will not be paid if they treat in govt hospitals. Doctors who treat in govt hospitals should be given high salaries. Private ones must not be allowed to spend money on govt hsopital infrastructure. Instead of spending lots of money giving to medical officers, IAS officers etc, the same money should be given to private institutions directly. In fact, Chidambaram, in this year's budget made the law that if private organizations would develop hospitals in Tier -II cities, they will get 5 year tax exemption. This is a good move to inspire the setting up of more hospitals. However, as I mentioned earlier, the govt ones should be revamped.

There are several exceptional cases where some hospitals have gone out of their way to give free quality treatment to people. Government must recognize and give incentives and encouragement. Best examples include Narayana Hrudalaya in Bangalore setting up a Rs. 100 crore facility exclusively for poor people (not sure if it is free). Even Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology in Bangalore seems to be having the latest cardiology equipment. L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad has done a fabulous job. They have done cornea transplantation (almost 1200 when the demand was 10,000) for free. The hospital is now in a process of setting 5 eye banks across the state to satisfy the demand. Not many people can do service for free. There is nothing wrong in it. Every doctor has a moral responsibility at the same financial compulsions don't let such good intentioned doctors do this. There is nothing wrong in it. However, if govt takes the initiative and starts attracting such people then it will encourage 1000's of doctors to come forward. K.S Hegde Hospital which has set up 17 satellite hospitals is also an interesting and inspiring example. Sushshrushah Hospital in Nagercoil is also a landmark example where a 3 dimensional mobile arm system allows doctors to see 3 D views during surgical operations. Having such facilities in small towns help people. Imagine if government encourages such participation or expect private hospitals to help govt hospitals with technology, we will go a long way. Already, Kolkata has begun to see a new revolution in this matter of participation where private ones are providing beds, wards etc to attract more confidence in people. They are also providing diagnostic tests at a subsidized rate to lower middle class and poor people.

I feel if schemes like Chiranjeevi can become success stories not just inside India, but even outside, private participation in government hospitals and govt's incentives will go a long way in triggering a health revolution in the country.

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