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Shabby treatment

Though the Supreme Court passed an order that 54 private hospitals in Delhi must fulfil their mandate to provide free treatment to the poor, their managements are continuing to turn a deaf ear to the orders

Ram, a middle-aged labourer, earns a meagre Rs 9,000 a month. Sustaining a family of four is not an easy task for him as he has to also support his daughter Raveena’s education. Recently, Ram fell seriously ill and was admitted to St Stephen’s hospital in Tis Hazari, New Delhi. In the end, the hospital gave the entire family a headache. The bill for his four-day stay at the hospital came to around Rs 35,000.

This incident comes a month after the Supreme Court passed a judgement on July 9 stating that the 54 hospitals that have been constructed on land provided by the government of Delhi, including St Stephen’s Hospital, have to provide free treatment to the patients who are Below Poverty Level (BPL). The judgement also states that the medical licences of these hospitals will be revoked if they fail to adhere to this judgement.

“The hospital is adding bill after bill, even though Ram has been admitted under the BPL quota. He has valid proof of being under the BPL category and a signed declaration by me, but St Stephen’s Hospital is not paying any heed,” says veteran advocate Ashok Aggarwal, whose organisation — Social Jurists — is looking after the welfare of such EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) patients.

Ram’s case is obviously not a rare one. On a visit to the hospital, Patriot found that there are more such cases there. Aslam had come all the way from Bihar for the treatment of his mother, Mariam Khatoon, who has been suffering from an excruciating pain in her stomach. Doctors in his native village had asked him to take her to some big hospital in a city. After reading the judgement passed by the Supreme Court in a newspaper, Aslam decided to come to Delhi for his mother’s treatment.

Upon reaching Delhi, he checked a list of hospitals where free treatment was available for the EWS patients and since St Stephen’s Hospital was near the railway station, they decided to come here for free treatment. But when he reached the hospital, he was turned away, as the authorities told him that his mother will not be given free treatment, in spite of being under the EWS category.

On enquiring why Mariam was being denied free treatment, the Public Relations Officer of St Stephen’s Hospital said, “We have conducted a full background check on Aslam, and we have found out that he does not belong to the EWS category. He does not even have a BPL card, and he and his brother are both working, so we can’t admit his mother based on just these.”
Economic classifications in Bihar are done through the colour of their ration cards. If a person holds a white ration card, it means that he/she falls under the EWS section and gets all the basic ration at a subsidised price. Aslam had brought his mother’s white ration card with him as proof, but still was turned away by the hospital. “We can’t let just anyone barge in and claim that they fall under the EWS category with any rubbish proof,” says the PRO.

Anita Kumari’s mother, Geeta, had been suffering from severe headache for quite some time. After consulting doctors, Anita decided to admit her mother to a hospital, and after consulting advocate Ashok Aggarwal, she decided to admit her to the St Stephen’s Hospital, with a written declaration from him. But just like Mariam Khatoon, Geeta too was denied free treatment. The PRO said that she too did not have a valid ID proof to substantiate the claim that she belonged to the EWS category. Anita was carrying her mother’s food safety card with her.

The green colour food safety card is provided by the Delhi government to residents whose annual family income is less than or equal to Rs 1lakh. “According to the law, a family with a monthly income equal to or less than Rs 13,986 falls under the BPL category,” says Ashok Aggarwal. In that case, the annual income of a BPL category family is Rs 1.7 lakh, which means that a person with the food security card definitely falls in the BPL category.

“The food safety card is genuine, government authorised proof, that states that Geeta falls in the EWS category, so the hospital is bound to provide her treatment,” says Aggarwal. “We want a valid proof like a BPL card or an income certificate. Just showing us any card won’t do,” said the PRO of the hospital. However, when shown Geeta’s food security card, he said, “We don’t believe in just any card. Nowadays, anyone can forge any document, and so we will not admit the patient based on any proof.”

But St Stephen’s hospital is not the only culprit here. There are hospitals across the city that are still not providing free treatment to the poor. “Such patients are entitled to get free treatment but these hospitals have found different ways to avoid them,” says Ashok Aggarwal.

Manju Khandelwal, another patient belonging to EWS category, had been suffering from a serious knee problem and was advised an MRI scan to undergo a replacement surgery. So, she went to the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Shalimar Bagh for the scan on July 23. The hospital did not reject her, but scheduled her MRI for January 21, 2019 — six months after her checkup. “Usually the period between the check-up and MRI is seven or a maximum of 10 days, not more than that,” says Dr Biswarup Bhattacharya, an orthopaedic surgeon.

“This is another way to harass the patient. In a way, they are following the court’s orders by treating the patient for free but delaying the process by six months is a way of driving her away,” says Ashok Aggarwal. When contacted, Garima Sharma, on behalf of the PR team at Max Hospitals said, “This must have been a lapse on part of the hospital. We have a good reputation amongst the EWS patients as we genuinely provide them with all facilities.” “We will definitely look into the matter now that it has come under our notice”, she adds.

Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute in Rohini was provided Rs 3lakh for the treatment of Fatema Begum’s (name changed) husband who was suffering from pancreatic cancer. But the hospital has refused to provide any further help to her husband, in case she is not able to arrange more money after the funds are exhausted. “I have sold all the land and jewellery that I had. I also have to look after my children, and I don’t know how will I do it. My husband is being treated at the hospital and since he is a daily wage labourer, his earnings have stopped for the last 15 days,” says Fatema. “I don’t know what will happen once all I have is exhausted. I don’t want my husband to die because of lack of treatment.” The officials at the hospital declined to comment.

“The major reasons that these hospitals cite for not providing treatment is the lack of availability of beds at that particular time.

But most of these hospitals are 600-1,000 bed hospitals, and although a large number of these remain vacant, such people are still denied treatment,” says Aggarwal, adding, “There were a lot of patients who were declined treatment by the Moolchand Khairati Ram Hospital near Kailash Colony. We even sent a legal notice to them after which they admitted patients.”

“These hospitals, on our advice, had also set up a live tracking system on the Delhi Government website, where you could see the number of beds that are available at these hospitals at any given time. But most of these 43 hospitals have stopped upgrading this system,” claims Aggarwal. “The Supreme Court clearly states that 25 per cent beds in the Out-Patient Department and 10 per cent in the In-Patient Department have to be reserved for the people in the EWS category. By denying them this, the hospitals are not only violating basic human rights, but also refusing to listen to the country’s highest court’s orders, which amounts to contempt of court,” he adds.

“This treatment meted out by the hospitals to the EWS, is nothing less than harassment. Hospitals are meant to be places where people go with the hope of getting better. These are doing nothing but crushing the hopes of
the marginalised section of the society,” concludes Aggarwal.