A newborn wrongly declared dead by a city hospital and a family of a girl, who died of dengue, being allegedly overcharged by an upscale facility, perhaps shook the faith of the common man in the private healthcare system. The two episodes, at Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh and Fortis hospital in Gurgaon, made front-page headlines in newspapers and grabbed prime time slots on TV in the last few months of 2017, opening up fresh debate on the efficacy and regulation of the private companies operating in health sector. But, amid the gloomy scenario, there was some good news too in the year as the Delhi government proposed to bear the cost of treatment of victims of motor accidents, fire incidents and acid attacks that take place on the city’s roads at private hospitals under a new scheme. The scheme was approved by the Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. It now awaits nod from Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal.
While the human tragedies in both the Max and Fortis cases pricked the conscience of the society, the repercussions of the two incidents are likely to spill over to the year ahead. In the Max Hospital case, the family has demanded a CBI probe, seeking justice, and indicated that it may even move the Delhi High Court if its grievance is not appropriately heard. 24-year-old Ashish Kumar, was on cloud nine when he had learnt that his wife Varsha was pregnant with twins, but fate had something else in store for him. On November 30, she gave birth to the twins (boy, girl) both of whom were declared still-born by the hospital. It was only when the family was on way to perform their last rites that they realised one of them was alive.
The baby boy was rushed to a private musing home in Pitampura, where he died after surviving for a week on life support. The twin tragedy left the family in a state of utter shock who then protested in front of the hospital.
The incident made the Delhi government sit up and take notice, which a few days later cancelled the licence of the hospital. Max Healthcare then moved an appellate authority which stayed the cancellation order issued by the Directorate General of Health Services, triggering another spell of protest by the family in front of the facility. The father and other members of the deceased infants also knocked on the door of Chief Minister Kejriwal who had assured them of all help.
The order issued by the Court of Financial Commissioner has put the stay till January 9, when the next hearing is due, and the family’s lawyer said, if they are not summoned in the case, they make move court. The Fortis hospital case preceded the Max one, and had triggered so much outrage that even Union Health Minister J P Nadda sought a report from the Gurgaon-based facility and Haryana government ordered a probe. The Health Ministry a few days later also asked all states to adopt the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act. The seven-year-old girl had died of dengue during treatment at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute on September and the family was billed nearly Rs 16 lakh.
The father of the girl had alleged that the hospital had overcharged the family, a charge denied by the Fortis group, which claimed the family was apprised of the bill on a regular basis. The Haryana government probe order and subsequent developments led to a press conference by state health minister Anil Vij, where he claimed that “it was a murder”. Even this case is likely to have further ramifications in the year ahead. Irrespective of the eventual outcome in the two cases, the scale of human tragedy and the pain and trauma underwent by the two families, the faith of the common man in private healthcare system has definitely been shaken.
Close on the heels of these incidents, the Delhi government on December 13 set up a nine-member expert committee to recommend it the norms to be followed by private hospitals in the city, including on capping the margin of profit from the sale of medicines, in medical investigation and for behavioural protocols. However, when asked if the step was prompted by the recent alleged incidents of overcharging and medical negligence by two upscale private hospitals, Health Minister Satyendar Jain said, “No. We have been pro-actively working on it for months.” “We have been saying that open loot and criminal negligence by any private hospital will not be tolerated,” he had said. The minister, in response to a question on the Centre’s Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act, said the city government is working on its own Delhi health act, which should come into being soon.