Plundering amidst the pandemic

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With the panic thrown up by the Covid situation spinning out of control, hospitals are make a killing by fleecing helpless patients and with no respite in sight, says Jehangir B. Gai.

There are dark clouds to the proverbial silver lining in this marauding pandemic. While on the one hand doctors are risking their necks out treating the patients, some hospitals are making a fast buck with their daylight loot.

The lockdown following the outbreak led to the expected panic with people stocking essentials and throwing all social distancing norms to the winds. Apparently, ensuring adequate provisions over-rode the risk factor compounded by a thoughtlessly imposed curfew.

Giving just two hours to a cluttered slum area to purchase their essentials was an ill-advised move that led to overcrowding and needless panic. It was inviting disaster and rapid spread of the infection. There were not enough face masks, sanitizers and PPE kits and their prices shot through the roof. With quantity, quality of these equipment also suffered.

The entry of substandard equipment came with their attendant risks as people complained about rashes. The PPE kits were found to be defective; making doctors themselves vulnerable. Instead of arresting the spread, it accelerated it.

The conditions at the quarantine centres were pathetic. People shied away from getting tested despite being sick. Precious time was lost before treatment was offered, leading to more patients requiring intensive care. The logistics of getting ambulances and other facilities were chaotic, not to speak of the patients being exploited with over-charging.

Hospitals were unable to cope with the pandemic what with no proper line of treatment. The number of patients swelled with each day with severe shortage of beds. If the situation was bad with the government quarantine centres, private hospitals made a killing. The poor stood no chance while those being treated at private hospitals were bled white by fleecing. 


The flourishing healthcare segment

While the lockdown resulted in an economic downturn with many losing means of livelihood, the healthcare segment flourished at the cost of hapless patients. The unholy nexus between agencies of healthcare caused ruthless profiteering. In the guise of safety precautions, some hospitals started looting patients. A pancreatic cancer patient on a treatment of chemotherapy was made to undergo three Covid tests in four weeks when she had no symptoms. Despite testing negative, the hospital did not start treatment on the pretext that it was necessary to keep a high-risk vulnerable patient in hospital to rule out erroneous results. The patient was shifted from the holding ward to the ICU, merely to jack up the bill. All through this the patient remained untreated, leading to anxiety and stress. The patient fell into depression with no family member allowed to meet her. The family sought a discharge but the hospital was reluctant. It was only when the family threatened the hospital with adverse media publicity and a consumer case that the hospital agreed to discharge but with the remark “against medical advice”. The bill for 48 hours hospitalisation and that too without treatment came to ₹99,000!

Some hospitals tied up with diagnostic centres in a quid pro quo. Patients were shown Covid +ve though they were not. It was difficult to know whether the person wearing the PPE kit was actually a doctor. In one case, a patient was prescribed multi-vitamins when the doctor had not even visited the hospital. To add insult to the injury, the patient was handed a hefty bill that he paid through his nose.

There were also instances of patients visiting the hospital for routine check-ups or follow-ups and declared dead within a couple of days. Relatives were not allowed to even see their dead with the body totally packed and sealed on the premise that it could infect others. Covid infection does not spread with dead bodies as they do not breathe or release particulate matter. The government itself filed an affidavit in the High Court stating there cannot be transmission via dead bodies. The packing of the bodies led to the reasonable speculation that there could be illegal organ transplant trafficking. Organ transplant trafficking is not new but the Covid situation was tailor-made for it.

With wearing and taking off a PPE kit taking considerable time and doctors forced to sweat it out for several hours at stretch, hospitals capitalised by billing every patient for the cost of the PPE kit rather than dividing its costs between the patients. As for medicines, the kin of the patients had to run from pillar to post to procure them. The medicines were not available with most chemists and attempts to reach out to the distributors met with a blank. There were cases when medicines were sold in black through middlemen.

Seven months into the lockdown, it is still difficult for patients suffering from other ailments to get consultation or treatment at a hospital. Doctors and small nursing homes are being shabbily treated and threatened by government officials. While beds are reserved for police and municipal workers – fair enough — there is no such facility for doctors and nursing staff who work in stressful conditions. It was little surprise that many doctors stopped going to clinics and switched over to telephonic consultation. They charged higher fees since studying medical reports online is more tedious and time consuming.

A reality check will show that the death rate due to Covid is not as high as it is due to dengue and tuberculosis. The focus on Covid has led to doctors ignoring the rise in dengue and TB cases. Spreading fear and panic during a pandemic does not help. Good governance is what is required to restore normalcy. People who are ill will then voluntarily get themselves tested and opt for home quarantine, allowing economy to recover gradually.


Jehangir B. Gai

Jehangir B. Gai is a consumer activist and has won the Govt. of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. He can be reached at jehangir.gai.columnist@outlook.in.

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