Bed Free, But Not Medicines
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21 June 2010
By Prithvijit Mitra
Govt Hospitals Asking Us To Buy Drugs, Say Poor Patients
For nearly six hours on Sunday morning, Keshto Dari and his sister Sagari had to take turns holding a nasal oxygen pipe to his ailing niece Sathi, undergoing treatment for an yet undiagnosed disease at Medical College & Hospital, Kolkata. Despite his fervent pleas, neither a nurse nor an attendant came forward to assist them. There was no doctor at the ward to help them either.
Several hours later, Dari was told that an oxygen kit was not available. Though seven–yearold Sathi is being treated on a free bed and is supposed to be medicines and other facilities free of charge, he was given the option of buying a new one or appointing an attendant for Rs 100 a night to hold the tube manually. Dari was forced to buy a new kit along with medicines worth Rs 4,000.
Radharani Das had travelled all the way from Hooghly to get her daughter admitted to Medical College & Hospital, Kolkata, on Saturday. She couldn’t afford to buy medicines but got hold of a free bed for Rita, her daughter. A day later, the hapless woman was asked to hire an attendant to ensure that the patient was properly cared for. It left Radharani scurrying back to her village to arrange for the money.
Free beds in government hospitals are increasingly turning expensive. Even though medicines are supposed to be provided free to patients undergoing treatment at these beds, many are being asked to buy them. Barring the bed charge and the food, very little was actually free, patients alleged.
"My niece has been in the hospital for 12 days. So far, I have bought medicines worth Rs 4,000, including the mask. I was also asked to hire an attendant but I refused as I cannot afford one. The prescriptions are being written on papers that don’t bear the hospital’s name," said Dari.
The Medical College authorities argued that only scheduled drugs were supposed to be free while patients had to pay for the rest. "It depends on the kind of drugs that need to be given and their availability. Often, it so happens that patients have to buy a cheap drug, which is not in our stock, while a more expensive one – that is available – is given to them. But an oxygen mask doesn’t cost much. So, even if it is not provided, patients shouldn’t have a problem," said Siddhartha Chakraborty, medical superintendent, Medical College & Hospital.
Members of Medical Service Centre (MSC), a body of doctors that has set up assistance booths near government hospitals in the city, said there was reason to suspect that patients were being cheated.
"It’s unfair to expect poor patients to buy even cheap medicines after they have been promised free treatment. Hundreds of people who come to government hospitals can’t even afford the so–called inexpensive drugs. It is strange that even common drugs like paracetamol are often not available," said Ansuman Mitra of MSC.
Bankim Barman, whose daughter Chinta Barman was under treatment for jaundice at a free bed in Medical College, said he had to buy paracetamol. "The list given to me had both expensive and cheap medicines. When I asked, the nurses told me that none of the prescribed drugs was available. I was also pressured to appoint an attendant," he said.
The hospital explained that some drugs took longer to be delivered, which led to a "temporary shortage". "Sometimes we have a time lag, but it’s not much. So far, I haven’t come across any complaint that free bed patients are being asked to appoint attendants," said Chakraborty.