CHENNAI: Are a few private hospitals referring severe COVID-19 patients to government medical facilities once it becomes clear that they cannot be saved? Health Department officials have given ‘verbal instructions’ to hospitals to not indulge in such practices, or face action for denial of service.
“Two multi-speciality hospitals in Chennai have been doing this regularly,” a senior health official told Express.
“They have been referring patients in serious condition to government hospitals -- especially to Stanley hospital and RGGGH.”
The matter got serious after two persons died, minutes after being handed over.
“The patients did not survive for even 30 minutes after being brought to the GH. So the government has given clear instructions, to refer patients well in advance. And to bring then in the day time, not at midnight.”
The official added that the initial plan was to sent an official notice to both hospitals. “But we later decided to give them a verbal warning.”
“If the practice continues, the government will not hesitate to take action.” The official added that sending severe patients to other hospitals is not a good idea as ambulances, unlike hospitals, have only basic infrastructure.
“If the travel time is around an hour, then the patient’s recovery is affected. Dying cases needn’t be referred to.”
How much is too much
As the warning is only verbal, Express is not at liberty to name the private hospitals. When contacted, one of the two hospitals said, only patients willing to move are being sent.
“They wanted to go to another hospital, so we sent them after they signed a declaration form.”
The second hospital in question even denied that it was treating COVID patients.
When asked about this, an official source told Express that many patients, who initially went to private hospitals, wanted to move later to government facilities as they could not afford the bill.
“They were referred after all their money was drained out,” the official said.
“When we asked them, the hospitals said those patients could not afford to pay the bill even after being given a 50 per cent concession.”
Most of these private hospitals charge around Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 per day.
“Someone I know was admitted to a hospital in Vanagaram for three weeks. The bill came up to Rs 14 lakh. However, the patient died, after which the hospital gave a concession of Rs 1 lakh on the bill,” said a woman who assisted a patient’s family.
Pregnant women not spared?
Senior government doctors tell Express that even pregnant women are not spared.
“Three weeks ago, a pregnant woman was brought to our hospital from a private facility in Arumbakkam,” says a senior doctor at the Kilpauk GH (KMC).
“The woman was COVID-19 positive. The private hospital’s ambulance dropped her at our entrance and left.”
The staff at the KMC took her in, completed her admission formalities, and began treatment.
“She delivered recently, and is being treated for COVID-19.”
The official in the Health Department said such complaints have been coming to them.
“Recently, another pregnant woman was denied service by a hospital in T Nagar. They then took her in after our department officials intervened in the matter.”
When asked why these hospitals were being let off with just a verbal warning, instead of official action, the official said: “Certain things must be solved amicably. We hope they will fall in line soon and cooperate.”
The official added that only a few private hospitals were indulging in these behaviours.
The department, he said, is taking serious measures.
Recently, a meeting was held with over 400 doctors and the Indian Medical Association,) where the issue was discussed. IMA’s State president CN Raja says such practices have not been happening for a while now.
“Initially a few hospitals were doing it, but we are conducting regular meetings and sensitising members,” Raja said.
“The government has not fixed the treatment cost for private hospitals. It must consider covering the treatment under CM’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme.”