India’s drug pricing regulator head, who highlighted excessive profiteering by private hospitals, shown the door
The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority chairman Bhupendra Singh was shifted to the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention in the cabinet secretariat on Wednesday.
NEW DELHI: Days after making public a report that highlighted how four big corporate hospitals in the national capital region are indulged in exorbitant profiteering and misconduct, head of India’s drug pricing regulator has been suddenly transferred by the government.
The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority chairman Bhupendra Singh was shifted to the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention in the cabinet secretariat on Wednesday, over a year before completing his term of three years.
Singh’s replacement is yet to be announced.
Though government officials insisted that the transfer was part of an administrative reorganisation that saw several other IAS officers being rejigged, health activists and even some officials in the Union ministry of health and family welfare suspect that the marching order given to Singh is in the backdrop of recent developments.
“It was being noticed remarkably that Singh had taken many positive steps to ensure affordability of medicines and medical devices that discomforted the pharma industry as the NPPA took important decisions on introducing price caps for cardiac stents and knee implants,” a joint secretary level officer said.
“The NPPA had recently further reduced the stent prices and had not bowed to pressures from the US MNCs on creating a separate category of imported advanced stents that can cost high,” another source said.
“Further the analyses of complaints of overcharging against four hospitals that found that they had earned up to 1737 per cent profit on some items was also released in public. Naturally, a section of the government was not very comfortable with this fresh enthusiasm shown by the NPPA,” the official also said.
Several health groups and activists also questioned the intention of the government on the move.
“We fear that Singh's transfer in total disregard to the public interest is due to the pressure from the industry and corporate hospital lobby,” said a statement from the All India Drug Action Network. “The pharmaceutical industry has long sought to undermine and weaken the NPPA to enable uninhibited profiteering and circumvention of the law.”
The manner of transfer will also create a chilling effect on the functioning of NPPA and will prevent the new Chairperson from acting decisively, AIDAN said.
Sulakshna Nandi of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said that the transparency with which the drug regulator had worked in recent times might not have gone down well with the government.
“It is an unfortunate development. We were hoping that the same spirit will be followed by other departments in the health ministry but an official who was doing some commendable work has been shown the door,” she said.