The Last Bullet For Indian Private Healthcare


© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Many doctors, nurses and other staff, police officers are dying due to corona exposure. Recently the quarantine period of doctors was cancelled. To add to this, very ridiculously, doctors’ salaries were reduced, and covid funds were deducted from even frontline warriors’ salary. This is like taking money from a soldier’s paycheck to fund the army!!

When I recently heard some people shouting about excess bills in hospitals, doctors not working etc., I felt like shouting back too, but one cannot argue with a sold TV screen.

For decades India has had
Excess urban crowding,
Very poor hygiene.
Very high poverty and illiteracy.
Lack of town-planning for slums.
Severe lack of state/ national healthcare infrastructure.
Tiniest budget for healthcare.
Perpetually under-functioning government hospitals. Every season hundreds die due to epidemics.

Where were you till before the pandemic? Who is responsible for all of the above? Do you want to discuss these factors which are responsible for the pandemic chaos today? Or now you just blame it all upon Doctors and Private hospitals?© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Only private doctors with small nursing homes and dispensaries, clinics were shouldering all healthcare needs that government hospitals could not provide. They had low profits and catered to middle and lower class. These were destroyed in last few years because of too many stringent regulations and costly licensing. Many closed down. Legal troubles by relatives, politicos supporting them and vandalising hospitals forced many private doctors to stop admitting patients. Protection to doctors was denied by almost all governments till before this pandemic.

Indian poverty is never ending, and charity cannot run anything perpetually unless there’s a strong fund generating mechanism supporting it. If someone expects that doctors charging 2 rupees fees are the ideal healthcare for all our medical needs, they should happily go to such a doctor. We highly respect them too, but it is their choice and there are obvious limitations to that. To develop advanced healthcare in India, higher profits were necessary for higher investment. Corporates, some businessmen and the likes of Mr. Ambani pitched in. Advanced healthcare with heart and liver transplants, complicated brain surgeries, cancer treatments came to India because of these investors. They accepted all the conditions of governments to accommodate over twenty percent poor, nonpaying patients via various schemes. The payments for running these schemes were delayed by various govts for years, and the hospitals were arm-twisted in still continuing to treat everyone. The only source of profits was private and some insurance patients who were paying a higher fees for facilities: from air-conditioning, food to choice of specialists. Higher quality of staff, especially nursing and technicians who can operate high end machinery and robotics requires very high salaries. Maintenance costs are heavy. A specialist cannot do much without such a very good team. Each of these requires good if not great salaries, as they are continuously invited by developed countries who pay far higher.

But then every patient wants the highest facilities, best staff and specialist team, with no payment or basic payment. There’s no concept of billing beyond actual price of medicines and room charges. Service and maintenance is considered a ‘free right’. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Even in this modern era of equality, a higher class Indian officer like a minister gets a higher room, better food and other facilities, even higher medical bill sanctions, whereas the labourer from his department gets minimum basic facilities and bill eligibility only for general ward. Law allows higher healthcare’s standards and payments for higher officials. Why do they even have classes in railways and airplanes? If a “Gareeb bechara” migrant wants to fly home, should we offer him road transport or compassionate air travel? Why don’t we do for all the poor something that you all expect doctors and hospitals to do?

We don’t mind if basic and emergency healthcare is uniformly cheap or free for everyone. But when you force a high-end medical commodity (skill-time-investment-staff) to be sold at a loss or extremely marginal profit, you kill the system.

Doctors do not differentiate when making a diagnosis or treating anyone from any financial/ power background. But the private hospitals must be allowed to cater to different classes, earning their profits. That is their only stimulus to grow forward, engage best personnel and bring advanced healthcare to India. Different governments have failed at maintaining high standards of healthcare in their respective set-ups (with some proud exceptions- but because that’s where our powerful go). Some hospitals indeed take more bills for better class of services, including staff, but none of them forces a patient to come to them. Even these hospitals never deny free emergency treatment to anyone.

“But isn’t healthcare a charity? Haven’t you taken oaths to serve?” our loudmouth hypocrites ask.

Yes we have taken an oath to serve everyone rich and poor equally, but no, we have not taken any oath to neglect our own health and well being. Yes we have taken an oath to serve, but we have not taken any oath to live in perpetual poverty and financial stress. Yes we are under an oath to do our best for every patient, but we will not be bending backwards to fulfil their unreasonable demands. Yes we want to save every life, even if it is dangerous , but we will not unnecessarily endanger our own life because someone forces us. We haven’t taken an oath to abandon our families. The Hippocratic oath does not ask any doctor to stay hungry, work without sleep, and do the unscientific because various governments cannot pay for adequate number of doctors. Still we are doing all this already. Let us be clear: we proudly and intellectually serve our country, but we refuse to be considered slaves of either the system or the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Capping bills in private hospitals will be the last bullet for all advances in healthcare development in India. Be prepared to go back to the chaos of ancient times in that case. Quality will suffer most: right from specialists to nurses to medicines. You can of course force one generation of doctors to work like this, under low cost and excess work. People aren’t fools to send their children to such hells of social slavery. Yes you read that right. There’s a difference between service and slavery. Do not attempt to turn medical service providers into slaves. It will backfire very sourly.

Instead of this, the government can invest in existing private healthcare players to create low cost infrastructure alongside their private hospitals, or privatising its own healthcare institutions with increased capacity. Our governments do have friends in very high places who can invest.

We love India. We are not against any particular government, and this post is not against any leader or party. But we do feel very strongly that healthcare decisions must be made involving everyone concerned, that this people-pleasing for short term will turn out to be a huge disaster in long run, and it will be irreversible. If any government thinks that cancelling hospital permits and doctors’ licences in a country with severe shortage of medical services is the right way forward, God help it.

If private and corporate hospitals start shutting down now, it will be permanent. India will then have to mostly rely upon prayers alone for healthcare. And of course those who think they know medical science more than doctors. India has no dearth of such “fatally self-medicating” ignoramuses.

Jai Hind

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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