Here's how Mumbai's private hospitals are getting rich on 'blood money'

Documents accessed by mid-day through RTI have revealed that private hospitals are buying blood at nominal rates from the government-run Rajawadi Hospital, only to provide it to patients at 20 times the price

The thousands of well-meaning citizens who donate their blood at government hospitals are probably unaware, that their blood not only saves lives, but also serves to fill the coffers of private hospitals and blood banks that buy it at subsidised rates and then sell it to the common man at inflated prices.

Documents accessed by mid-day in an RTI query have revealed that several private hospitals have been buying blood from the government-run Rajawadi hospital in Ghatkopar at Rs 100 per unit, only to provide it to their patients at rates hiked by as much as 20 times.

Private hospitals bought lifesaving blood for Rs 100-450 and sold it to patients in need for as much as Rs 2,250. Pic/Thinkstock
Private hospitals bought lifesaving blood for Rs 100-450 and sold it to patients in need for as much as Rs 2,250. Pic/Thinkstock

During investigations, mid-day found that Rajawadi Hospital had given 1,025 units of surplus blood to private hospitals, charitable trusts and blood banks from January 2013 to December 2014. This in itself was done with the intention of not letting the blood expire due to prolonged storage.

Human blood can be stored for about 35-42 days, a period within which hospitals try to either use the premium bio-resource themselves or give it to other blood banks in need. “Rajawadi Hospital offers blood to any authorised hospital or blood bank that requires the same due to unavailability.

Our major concern is to provide the blood during emergencies and ensure minimal wastage,” said Vidya Thakur, medical superintendent of Rajawadi Hospital and in-charge of BMC’s peripheral hospitals in the central suburbs.

In the past two years, this surplus of Packed Red Blood Cells (PRBC) and Whole Blood (WB) was given to seven private hospitals, one private blood bank and three hospitals run by public-private collaborations at Rs 100/unit. The last category includes the BPT, BSES and Tata Memorial hospitals, which are partially funded by the state.

These provided the blood to patients either below or at the standard rate fixed by the government Rs 1,450 for a unit. However, things are far different at the private hospitals and blood bank that got the lion’s share of Rajawadi Hospital’s surplus – 758 units or 75% of the total (see box).

These private institutions include Jaslok Hospital, Nanavati Hospital, Nowrosjee Wadia Hospital, Bombay Hospital, Prince Aly Khan Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital and KJ Somaiya Blood Bank. The hospitals purchased the blood at either Rs 100 per unit (with donor cards) or Rs 450 (without donor cards) and sold it for as much as Rs 2,250 in some cases.

Unnecessary costs
While the hospitals claim the higher rates are due to the five compulsory tests to ensure the blood is safe, officials confirmed that Rajawadi Hospital conducts the same basic tests before giving the blood away.

When this reporter asked why the same tests were being repeated, Dr Ann Thomas, senior in-charge of Breach Candy Hospital’s blood bank, said, “All the tests we conduct are for the benefit of the patient.

In the past, there have been instances when blood received from other blood banks tested positive for HIV and had to be discarded.”

Official speak
FDA joint commissioner, S T Patil told mid-day that most of the hospitals are following the rules and if any were found to be flouting them, action would be taken. “Even in November-December 2014, we had taken action against 60-70 hospitals in the state for overcharging the patients. To make the scenario more clear, we are going to ask the blood banks to show the base rate of Rs 1,450 and give a break up of additional charges for tests conducted,” said Patil.

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Blood deal
>> Bombay Hospital’s blood bank received 275 units of blood from Rajawadi in 2013 and 2014 and provides blood at Rs 2,250 per unit. Dr Paresh Marathe, who is in charge of the blood bank did not wish to comment on the price hike and said only, “The rate card is flashed at the blood bank so patients can see it; the rate is according to the set rules.”

>> At Prince Aly Khan Hospital, which provides blood at Rs 2,170, the blood bank official Dr Vijayalaxmi Rey said the hospital was following all the rules. “Our blood bank functions according to the FDA rules and there is no irregularity in our rate. The charge is higher because of the equipment and because of five mandatory tests - HIV ELISA, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Malarial Parasites and VDRL (venereal disease research laboratory test to detect sexually transmitted diseases) - conducted by the hospital,” said Dr Rey.

>> The same claim was made at Nanavati Hospital, where the blood bank in-charge, Dr Rinku Bhatia said, “We do a test that costs around R300, which hikes the cost of the blood.”

>> Despite attempts to contact Jaslok Hospital, officials were not available for comment.

Rs 1,450
The standard rate for a unit of blood, as determined by a government resolution

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