At an unprecedented interface with representatives of private hospitals and nursing homes across the city, chief minister Mamata Banerjee came down heavily on the latter, accusing them of inflating bills and medical negligence and even singling out one for a particularly abrasive dressing down for allegedly running a kidney racket.
She concluded the fiery session by announcing the West Bengal Health Regulatory Commission that will screen billing, performance and transparency of clinical establishments. While the bill to set up the commission will be tabled in the assembly on March 3, the chief minister announced that the commission will be headed by a retired judge and will rope in experts, including doctors and could have five-six members.
The chief minister made it amply clear that her government will not tolerate illogical charges and would act against those who refuse treatment to critical and poor patients.
Opening the session with a series of disparaging observations on private hospitals, Mamata pointed out that they often recommend unnecessary tests, refuse to release patients' treatment records, take those who need just basic treatment for a ride and even hold back dead bodies till bills are paid.
This set the tone for the rest of the meet, which saw hospital officials turn jittery and resort to excuses which didn't cut ice with the CM. Maintaining an aggressive posture throughout the stormy session, Mamata wondered why hospitals recommended “tests to detect even common stomach ailments“.
The CM's fiercest barbs were reserved for Medica Superspecialty Hospital. Even before hospital chairman Alok Roy could speak, Mamata turned aggressive. “You have taken land. Why did you ask for concessions? You earn enough,“ she said. Even as Roy was about to reply, Mamata interjected, dropping a bombshell. “Has the kidney racket at your hospital been stopped,“ she asked. Roy was about to put up a feeble defence but Mamata thundered that she had papers to prove its existence. “Don't allow it. You were saved because there was no law that could nail you,“ she said.
Mamata was also severe on Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, which she likened to a five-star hotel. “Your bills keep spiralling. Why? There are numerous complaints against you. Not even a five-star hotel is as expensive as you are,“ she told Apollo COO Rana Dasgupta. Visibly shaken by the verbal assault, Apollo COO Rana Dasgupta made a feeble attempt to seek the cover of expensive equipment and cuttingedge clinical excellence. “We have a protocol which raises our costs. We still provide free treatment, ambulance transfer and never refuse patients. Our occupancy rate is high so admission sometimes gets delayed,“ explained Dasgupta.
But Mamata was unrelenting. “How many machines do you buy? You must wait for a reasonable period to recover your money rather than fleece patients. Why don't you have a budget section?“ she demanded. Dasgupta replied that they offer concessions to those who earn less than Rs 6,000 a year. It left Mamata aghast. “Less than Rs 6,000? Even beggars earn more than that,“ she retorted.
Turning to Belle Vue CEO P Tondon, Mamata declared that the standard of service at the hospital has deteriorated. She added that she was also not satisfied with their billing and treatment. Tondon sought defence in the paucity of nurses who leave to join government hospitals. Tondon pleaded with the chief minister to make it illegal which left Mamata infuriated. “Why don't you pay them higher salaries or have your nursing college. What kind of a demand is that Tondon sahib?“ said an exasperated Mamata.
CMRI was next in the line of her fire and Mamata pulled out all stops. She said the ransacking last week was `not right'. Even as CMRI hospital representative Uttam Bose pledged to look into the billing process, he claimed that 10%-12% of patients were provided free treatment. The claim, however, fell flat as chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee pointed out that the hospital often refused to release patients' records.
While GD Hospital and BM Birla Heart Research Centre got off with milder rebukes, AMRI hospitals was asked to update their welfare schemes. When CEO Rupak Barua pointed out that the hospital offered up to 30%-40% discounts, Mamata pointed out that they were not part of the latest schemes. Ruby Hospital was told that they, too, charged exorbitantly and were guilty of refusing patient records.
Peerless Hospital got a mild rebuke for not maintaining ventilation protocol. The Institute of Neurosciences Kolkata (INK) also came under her fire. “You, too, have taken land from us. We have waived your stamp duty .We have helped you. Now you help the people,“ said Mamata.
When hospital CEO John Vasiloudis invited Mamata to drop in at INK, she sounded amused. “Do you want me to fall ill? Only the sick should visit hospitals,“ she said.
She went on to point out that KPC Medical College was also guilty of holding back dead bodies, she mentioned a complaint of negligence against Bhagirathi Neotia Hospital for Women and Children.