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Plight of Patients

Assam Tribune, February 24, 2011
What has been speculated for long has now been documented with a degree of certainty in three different urban areas of Assam. Even as the State Health Department reiterates its claims on providing better healthcare, patients in government hospitals are still dependent on private sources to procure medicines, a recent survey has revealed. Around 80 per cent of patients in Bongaigaon, Gauhati, and Nagaon reported that government hospitals where they were treated did not provide the prescribed medicines and they had to buy them from private pharmacies. Findings of the study conducted by Consumer Unity and Trust Society and Action North-East Trust further mention ed that in all the three cities there were evidences of collusive practices among doctors, pharmacists, and diagnostic laboratories, which were sustained by mercenary motives. The situation was such that patients and guardians who relied on government hospitals for affordable healthcare were actually fleeced by unscrupulous elements adding to the financial burden of treatment. Thus the prevailing scenario undermined the spirit of the Assam public Health Bill 2010 by making healthcare costlier for the common person. It may be rightly assumed that the pernicious problem of collusive conduct by government employees and private operators will erode public confidence in government run hospitals.

The Health Department is not unaware of the scenario that the survey has brought into focus, but it has chosen to remain silent for long. If the intent is to expand quality healthcare for all, then it must initiate action through some specific interventions. There is a felt need to take stock of the demand and supply of drugs in government hospitals, and make the supply chain seamless. On time delivery of drugs is a must, because unlike in some other instances patients cannot be kept waiting for their medication. The Health Department should hold doctors and administrators responsible if patients in government hospitals are not provided with medicines assured to them. Another essential step is to check if doctors are recommending patients to particular pathological laboratories or diagnostic clinics offering services which are available in the hospitals. According to those acquainted with the present state of government hospitals, patients should be made aware of the medicines they should receive from the facilities in a manner that is transparent and easily comprehensible. On an urgent basis, the Health Department should carry out random checks in its hospitals to assess the position of medicines and other provisions and take appropriate remedial measures.

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