Covid-19 bonanzaPrivate hospitals cannot turn the Covid-19 crisis into a money minting festival.
Some private hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley and elsewhere across the country are reported to have refrained from taking Covid-19 patients, and referring anyone who tests positive during screening to public hospitals. Medical professionals and administrators at public hospitals have complained that they are receiving a large number of referrals from private hospitals. This, even after the Ministry of Health and Population has directed private hospitals not to refer patients without ensuring that the hospitals designated for Covid-19 care have enough beds.
The choice of whom to treat and whom to refer to public hospitals is reported to have been based on the particular patient’s financial status. Moreover, private hospitals have reported to have failed to put the ideals of public service above all else, as they continue to keep profit-making at the centre of their work. While the Health Ministry has fixed the costs for Covid-19 treatment at hospitals at Rs3,500 per day for normal patients, Rs7,000 for moderately ailing patients and Rs15,000 for those needing intensive care, private hospitals are charging many times more than those rates. As a result, patients are forced to either depend on the overburdened public hospitals for treatment or stay at home even if they begin developing severe Covid-19 symptoms.
In trying to accumulate more and more wealth, some private hospitals have exposed their poverty of social responsibility. Of course, they cannot be asked to be completely charitable—after all, they have salaries to pay, loans to repay, and profits to make. But these requirements should not blind them to the responsibility of keeping the country’s population healthy. They cannot turn the crisis into a money minting festival. And the fact that their work involves saving precious lives aggravates the degree of their social responsibility and accountability.
The government did not discriminate between health workers, sanitation workers and supporting staff from public and private hospitals during the immunisation drive. This was an acknowledgement on the part of the government that frontline workers, notwithstanding their association, are important members of the system that is necessary to fight the pandemic. However, private hospitals have been a missing link in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. This is not to undermine the role they have played in the treatment and management of patients. But the fact that they have failed to become reliable alternatives to the overburdened public hospitals means that they have faltered in fulfilling their social responsibilities.
Public hospitals across the country are having to return patients because they have literally run out of beds and resources. In such a situation, the responsibility of private hospitals to fulfil the gap is unequivocal. The already overwhelmed public health system cannot take the sole burden of taking care of patients, as the responsibility of rescuing the country from the current crisis lies equally with private hospitals as well. Private hospitals should, therefore, rise to the occasion and take care of the sick and dying. It is also a part of the social contract not to let the people alone in times of crisis. They must, therefore, work hand-in-hand with all stakeholders to ameliorate the situation rather than shed responsibility at this time of crisis.