'We can't treat non-COVID patients for free'

Updated: Apr 18, 2020, 07:25 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Private doctors fear shutdown as govt tells them to treat non-COVID patients for free; IMA asks govt to reconsider the decision

An IMA mobile clinic was inaugurated in Pune's Kadaba Kutti, Gadital Mangalwar Peth on Friday
An IMA mobile clinic was inaugurated in Pune's Kadaba Kutti, Gadital Mangalwar Peth on Friday

The Indian Medical Association (IMA)'s Maharashtra Chapter has demanded that the private sector should not be asked to treat non-COVID patients free of charge. The IMA had earlier decried the 'derogatory' notices sent by district collectors to doctors regarding acquiring their small hospitals for free treatment of non-COVID patients as well as COVID patients. It said the threat-like compulsion was in violation of the Union Health Ministry's directive.

State IMA president Dr Avinash Bhondwe told mid-day that private hospitals and doctors carried loans, monthly responsibilities, and compulsive expenses towards the healthcare set-ups. "Small private hospitals and doctors have difficult economics as compared to the corporate or multi-bed giant hospitals. They do not earn enough to sustain the monthly losses following near-shutdown during epidemic lockdown. Carrying out free treatment of non-COVID patients in these hospitals will make it difficult for them to survive," he said from Pune.

Across Maharashtra, government or municipal hospitals have been turned into COVID hospitals and the non-COVID patients are sent to the private hospitals for admission.

"However, at many places, these patients are asked to be treated totally free, from whatever conditions they are suffering. So, we have requested the Chief Minister Uddhav Thakare and health minister Rajesh Tope to reconsider this matter," Bhondwe said, adding that IMA members were with the government in the COVID fight and have been working at community fever clinics, mobile clinics, teleconsultation units, and COVID isolation/treatment facilities.

'Financial liabilities, too'

According to Dr Bhondwe, the government notices threaten penal actions against private doctors if they charge non-COVID patients.

"Private doctors and hospitals are already working during an epidemic in the COVID facilities. These services rendered are free and we don't charge anything for human resources, staff, machinery and equipment for COVID facilities. But the government should understand our financial liabilities. We aren't like big multi-bed corporate hospitals. To carry out free treatment of non-COVID patients in small hospitals will create tremendous financial pressure on us," he said, adding that if the threat
continued, small hospitals would shut down.

He said that IMA Maharashtra was already reaching out to patients who can't reach hospitals owing to transport issues. It helps in diagnosing COVID-19 patients at the earliest.

'Acquire govt set-ups first'

State IMA has suggested that the government should first acquire set-ups that are covered under various state and Centre schemes like Ayushman Bharat, CGHS/ESIS for treating non-COVID patients and all private hospitals should be empanelled under such schemes. The doctors/hospitals should be medico-legal immunity and protection against violence. Investigations and pharmacy charges should be borne at actual, said Dr Bhondwe.

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