Focus on coronavirus care has had unintended consequences for patients with existing chronic diseases
Lack of infrastructure in government facilities on one hand and exorbitant billing in the private sector on the other have emerged as common issues during this COVID-19 pandemic. Brushed under this overwhelming virus spread, testing, treatment and mortalities is the problem of those with other illnesses. Very few hospitals agree to take in patients unless “strings are pulled” or “cash-only” payments are made as these tragic stories tell us.
“My uncle, a heart patient, developed clots after a fall. Being a Railways employee, he is entitled to appropriate treatment at any private hospital for specialised treatment because although Indian Railways is a huge organisation, its own healthcare centres do not have adequate facilities,” says Kalyan, an entrepreneur.
The woes began when a top private hospital in Secunderabad, which is closer to his house, refused admission claiming to be an exclusive COVID-19 care centre. It took an extra day to get the scans done after much persuasion in another hospital where he was diagnosed as having a gastric problem. Another top healthcare facility’s senior doctor agreed to perform surgery on him after several video-consultations.
However, hours before he was to be operated, the doctor backed out, forcing the family to take him to another corporate hospital where he was admitted after advance payment of ₹2 lakh. The bill came to ₹5 lakh, inclusive of medicines, for four days. “When we brought a referral letter from the Railways, it was not accepted citing rules and regulations, as it meant changing the patient from cash to cashless treatment. After endless talks, they grudgingly accepted but soon we were told the operation is risky and cannot be done. They also wanted us to take the patient home with all tubes attached as the ICU bed could be used for another patient,” he recalls. The daily bills ran up to ₹84,000 and in a few days, his uncle passed away.
There was another case of Venkat, a businessman, whose 55-year-old employee was seriously ill and died after several hospitals denied him treatment. “The family took him in an ambulance from one hospital to another and everywhere they were insisting for a COVID-negative certificate without even providing him with the basic first-aid. He died of a heart attack and turned out to be COVID-negative. The family was scared to take him to government hospitals because of the conditions there,” he claims.
Kalyan says the State government could have simply converted the old secretariat into a COVID-19 care facility during the pandemic. “Function halls, playgrounds and colleges could also have been converted while regular healthcare facilities could accept patients for treatment of other ailments. This could and would save more lives but citizens have been left to fend for themselves,” he adds.
(Names changed to protect identity)