West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday gave an unprecedented public tongue lashing to city-based private hospitals for “unethical” money-making practices and announced the formation of a regulatory commission to monitor their activities.
A stern Banerjee berated hospital managements for excess billing and medical negligence and called upon them to show a “humane” side.
Banerjee met the top brass of private hospitals (that have 100-plus bed capacity) at Town Hall with a roster of grievances of the public against them, including turning away emergency patients and refusing to release dead bodies if the families fail to cough up the bills.
“We are setting up a West Bengal Health Regulatory Commission headed by an ex-Chief Justice or judge and experts. It will have representation of the public, the physicians and the hospitals as well. There will be comprehensive monitoring from billing to performance,” she said in the presence of a large posse of media persons with some news channels covering the interaction live.
The Commission will submit a report every month.
She also said the West Bengal Clinical Act will be amended and strengthened.
Leaving the management representatives stunned and often fumbling for words, Banerjee called them one after another and underscored the specific complaints against them.
Medica Superspecialty Hospital representative had the most difficult time.
“Has the kidney racket stopped at your hospital?” Banerjee asked the Medica official, who denied the charge, but the Chief Minister was unimpressed.
“There was a police inquiry. Centre had sent us a document. The matter had gone to court… since there was no law…. you went scot free,” she said, prodding a senior health official and the city Police Commissioner to get going about the legislation.
At times, Banerjee instructed the senior bureaucrats to read out specific allegations against the hospitals and asked the managements to respond.
But while admonishing the hospital authorities, she advised citizens to refrain from taking law into their own hands, referring to the vandalism at CMRI hospital where relatives of a patient and locals ransacked the premises accusing it of wrong treatment and demanding money without taking care of critical patients.
The incident triggered the meeting where senior ministers, top bureaucrats including Chief Secretary Basudeb Banerjee, all high-level Bengal Health Department officials, Director General of Police Surajit Kar Purkayastha and city Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar were present.
Banerjee also informed the hospital officials that a survey had been carried out recently following which as many as 70 hospitals were slapped showcause notices.
“Out of 2,088 healthcare facilities, we have surveyed 942 places and 70 have been showcaused. 33 licenses have been cancelled. We had been getting complaints for a long time and it’s not that we didn’t do anything,” she said.
She vowed to clamp down on “unethical” practices.
“There is absence of cleanliness and coordination. Some patients are being admitted to ICUs or put on ventilator when these options are not required in their cases.
“Doctors are forcing patients to go for expensive tests and treatments for small issues. Doctors are not to be blamed. They are being forced to bend to the will of hospital authorities and go for pricier treatment for commissions,” she said.
“I will not allow private hospitals to extort money from patients. Have you ever thought how a poor man will pay bills in lakhs (of rupees)?” she asked.
Banerjee also put forth peeves by foreign patients who complain about absence of beds and high treatment cost.
“There are patients in Bengal from Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan as well as northeastern states and Odisha. We have to be humane. Let’s be frank, we should aim for convenience of the people.
“If you feel that you need 100 per cent profit rather than 20 per cent, then it becomes a factory,” she said.
Banerjee recommended e-prescriptions and e-records be made compulsory.
Opening up fair price diagnostics and medicine facilities and budget sections were also discussed.
Prominent establishments like Apollo Gleneagles and Belle Vue were on her radar for excess billing.