'Hospitals fleeced Covid patients due to no guidelines'

Private hospitals fleecing Covid-19 patients due to absence of guidelines: Parliamentary panel

Panel recommends increase in expenditure on public health infrastructure

The panel was of the view that the "fragility" of the healthcare system posed a huge hurdle in bringing out an effective response to Covid-19. Representative image. Credit: iStock.

Inadequate beds in government hospitals and absence of guidelines on treatment have resulted in private health facilities fleecing Covid-19 patients, while poor contact tracing and less testing appeared to have aided the surge in cases, a Parliamentary panel said on Saturday.

In its report 'Outbreak of Pandemic Covid-19 and its Management', the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health headed by Samajwadi Party MP Ramgopal Yadav said several deaths could have been averted if the government had put in place a sustainable pricing model.

The Committee was also not impressed with the existing coordination between the Centre and the states and emphasised the need for further strengthening the mechanism.

The required infrastructure to imbibe the 5Ts -- Tracing, Tracking, Testing, Treating and Technology -- cannot be established overnight rather it demands adequate financial aid and specialized human resources, it said.

The panel was of the view that the "fragility" of the healthcare system in the country posed a huge hurdle in bringing out an effective response to Covid-19 while noting that the spending on health was "abysmally low".

"Cost of health service delivery increased due to absence of specific guidelines for Covid-19 treatment in private hospitals as a result of which patients were charged exorbitant fees," the committee, which submitted the report to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, said. Interestingly, the report was submitted through a digital conference, a first in Parliament's history.

The multi-party panel said the lack of hospital beds and the inadequate ventilators facilities further complicated the efficacy of the containment plan against the pandemic.

"As the numbers of cases were on the rise, a frantic search for vacant hospital beds became quite harrowing. Instances of patients being turned away from overburdened hospitals due to lack of vacant beds became the new normal," it said.

Emphasising that healthcare workers had to work under huge stress due to shortage of PPE kits, the panel said many of them had to lose their precious lives. The Ministry needs to ensure that there is no shortage of PPE kits.

Recommending an increase in expenditure on public health infrastructure, the report said the lack of investment in the sector has exposed the fragility of Indian health ecosystem which posed a big hurdle in generating an effective response against the pandemic.

"The serious impact of the pandemic could have been minimized had the Government over the years increased its investment in the healthcare system. The Committee is pained to note the trauma and distress the public had to undergo due to absence of a dedicated healthcare system," the report noted.

"A sustainable pricing model to treat Covid-19 patients could have averted many deaths...The number of government hospital beds in the country were not adequate to handle the increasing number of Covid and non-Covid-19 patients. In the wake of the pandemic and shortage of Government healthcare facilities, the Government should have strategised a better partnership with the Private Hospitals under PPP model," it said.

The committee was worried about the use of less reliable diagnostic tests and batted for an increase in testing through reliable RT-PCR tests. The panel's contention was that though Rapid Antigen Tests may give faster results, large scale use of such tests with low specificity and sensitivity may end up giving misleading results and would derail the containment strategy.

Supporting the proposal to set up a dedicated 'Indian Health Service' (IHS) on the pattern of Indian Administrative Service (IAS), it said this could help in streamlining the healthcare delivery as envisaged in the National Health Policy 2017.