The second wave of the pandemic has hit India hard. The severity of the disease as well as the spread is higher as compared to the previous phase. Hospitals across the country are being put under strain – many are looking to discharge patients at the earliest so as to treat other patients in worse medical conditions. The scarcity of beds across the country is alarming and many critical patients are not getting the medical treatment that they deserve. In acute cases affected with the triple mutant virus, some patients are demanding a much longer bed time which is worsening the situation. In this fight against Covid-19, along with government hospitals, private hospitals are also playing an important role.
The Delhi government has recently decided to convert 14 of their major private hospitals (including Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Holy Family Hospital in Okhla, Sarita Vihar’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Fortis Hospital and Max Hospital in Shalimar Bagh, and Max Smart Super Specialty Hospital, Saket) into special Covid hospitals. Satyendar Jain, Health Minister, Government of Delhi, has commented that in Delhi, private hospitals will have 2,060 more beds for Covid patients. Additionally, the government also decided to reserve 60% of the collective ward beds in 101 private hospitals which will lead to an additional 5,689 general beds for Covid patients. Along with this, 19 other tertiary private hospitals were directed to reserve 80% of their ICU beds for Covid affected patients and 82 private hospitals were directed to reserve 60% of their ICU beds. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope has stated that the state government has acquired 80% of the beds in private hospitals.
In another major affected state of Tamil Nadu, recently available data confirmed that all the private hospitals have cumulatively allocated 45.64% of their total beds to treat Covid patients. Around 13 private hospitals have allocated all their beds for treatment of Covid affected patients. MK Stalin, Chief Minister, Government of Tamil Nadu has stated that private hospitals must convert more than 50% of their beds to Covid beds. In Madurai, already 465 additional Covid beds have been added in 44 private hospitals along with the previous 1,509 beds.
The state of Kerala has also shown an effective private-public model to combat the pandemic. In Ernakulum, private hospitals are being listed under the ‘Karunya Arogya Suraksha Padhathi’ (KASP). Till now, around 21 private hospitals have been listed under KASP. Patients with the Ayushman Bharat cards are beneficiaries of KASP and can arrive directly at these hospitals and seek treatment. The state government has recently taken a remarkable initiative by giving an official order to fix the maximum charge for Covid treatment at `2645. All of the expenditure should be charged in the general ward on a per day basis and only two PPE kits can be charged from a patient. A division bench in the Kerala High Court has suggested that the government should take over 50% beds from the private hospitals for treatment of Covid patients.
Private hospitals in West Bengal
Till May 12, there are 485 Covid hospitals available in the state with 32559 bed capacity, according to the state government’s integrated Covid management system (WB-ICMS). West Bengal’ newly elected Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has confirmed that the government has acquired 1367 beds (including 897 general beds, 370 CCU beds, 90 HDU beds and 10 NICU beds) from 24 privately run hospitals across the state. Patients will have to be admitted to these hospitals through the state health department. Private hospitals are increasing their bed capacity regularly to allot beds to critical patients.
Medica Superspecialty Hospital has tied up with the Calcutta Police Hospital to turn it into a 300 bed Covid hospital - available for both police and non-police patients. Dr. Alok Roy, Chairman, FICCI Health Services and Chairman of the Medica Group of Hospitals told BE, “There would be 50 oxygen-supported beds. Additionally, Medica with support from ITC has set up a 200 bed Covid hospital at Kishore Bharati Stadium in Santoshpur in a public-private-partnership model in a record time of 72 hours.” Now the hospital has 267 Covid beds at Mukundapur including 132 ICU/HDU beds, 122 general beds and 12 under suspected ICU/HDU and triage.
In addition, CMRI and RN Tagore Hospital have also added 30 and 50 new Covid beds each, respectively. The AMRI group has around 420 Covid beds in its three Kolkata setups along with their three satellite centres. The group has set up 250 Covid beds at the Salt Lake stadium with liquid medical oxygen (LMO) supply. AMRI will have around 340 more beds outside their three units.
In this critical situation, many private hospitals are charging exorbitantly. Charges for ventilation or even the designated Covid beds are sometimes going beyond the reach of the common man. The government should intervene in this matter.
India's healthcare spending, including the private and public sectors, is already quite low. It has been around 3.6% of the GDP for the past six years which is the lowest percentage in the five BRICS countries. So, the government must focus on how to increase investment in the healthcare sector and provide affordable facilities for people.