Sinlung /
17 May 2012

No Free Treatment in Assam's Government Hospitals

By Kaushik Deka

The Gauhati Medical College HospitalThe Gauhati Medical College Hospital

Recently, Assam was shaken by the news that a couple was forced to sell their baby to clear the medical bills in a government hospital.
An India Today investigation into the case found that even those patients who are below poverty line (BPL) are forced to buy medicines and surgical equipment in Assam's premier government hospital - the Gauhati Medical College Hospital (GMCH).

When asked, Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma admitted that the government is able to provide only 50 per cent of the medicines required for the delivery of a child in a government hospital. He blames lack of funds for this. At the same time, and for reasons best known to Sarma, the state health ministry's budget has remained static at Rs.42 crore since 2006.

On May 12, Sarmila Basumatry and her husband Suniram Basumatry had to sell their newborn baby to a childless couple to clear a bill of Rs.7,400 at the Rupnath Brahma Civil Hospital in Kokrajhar. A doctor in the hospital, Jaynal Abedin, forced the couple to buy medicines from a private pharmacy saying that the necessary medicines were not available in the hospital. The doctor was later arrested after Pradeep Hajela, Director (Assam) National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) filed an FIR at the office of Kokrajhar superintendent of police.

Under the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram launched by NRHM, Assam, in December 2011, a pregnant woman admitted to a government health institution is entitled to free and cashless delivery, including caesarean section, medicines and consumer durables, surgical items, diagnostics tests such as blood, urine and ultrasound, free nutritional diet and supplements and free conveyance from home to a health institution and free drop home after delivery. The patient is provided with a free kit of drugs and consumables for the delivery.

"The medicines included in this kit are not sufficient and cater to 50 per cent of the total requirement. This is a new scheme and came into effect from March. We are reviewing this kit on May 18 to include more medicines," Sarma told India Today.

No wonder then that when the India Today team visited GMCH, it was discovered that almost every patient had to buy several medicines and consumer durables from outside the hospital campus. "We know we are entitled to free medical care. When we called the hospital, they did send the pick-up van and provided some free medicines. But we have been asked to buy some medicines on our own as well," says the husband of a pregnant woman. The couple did not want to be named. India Today is in possession of several documents to establish that several patients, including some from below the poverty line, bought medicines from outside the hospital.

Ramen Talukdar, superintendent of GMCH, said that there had been instances when patients were asked to buy medicines. "It happens only when there is a short supply of medicine from the Department of Health & Family Welfare," said Talukdar.

Our team also found out that even though BPL patients are entitled to free surgery in government hospitals, orthopedic and neurological patients are routinely forced to buy surgical equipment worth a couple of thousand. "Some of the items such as plates and screws required in these surgeries are not available in the hospital and we ask the patients to buy those," said Talukdar.

Pointing to the increasing footfall in government hospitals, Sarma says, "The indoor patients in government hospitals have increased from over two lakh in 2006 to 10 lakh in 2011 while outdoor patients have increased from over 5 lakh in 2006 to over 20 lakh in 2011. This has put huge stress on our infrastructure and existing facilities."


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