How a Private Hospital in Delhi May Be Keeping Families Below the Poverty Line From Availing Free Healthcare

14 September 2015
People move through the corridor of a patient ward at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals facility, operated by Apollo Hospitals. The government of India leased over 15 acres of land to Apollo at Jasola village near Delhi-Mathura road at the rate of a rupee one per month for 30 years. This was done under the condition that the hospital would have to provide a third of its indoor patients and forty percent of its outdoor patients with free access to medical facilities.
Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images
People move through the corridor of a patient ward at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals facility, operated by Apollo Hospitals. The government of India leased over 15 acres of land to Apollo at Jasola village near Delhi-Mathura road at the rate of a rupee one per month for 30 years. This was done under the condition that the hospital would have to provide a third of its indoor patients and forty percent of its outdoor patients with free access to medical facilities.
Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images

On 12 September 2015, theDelhi government issued show-cause noticesto five private hospitals—Moolchand Khairati Ram Hospital in Lajpat Nagar, Aakash Hospital in Malviya Nagar, Max Hospital in Saket, Saket City Hospital and Irene Hospital in Kalkaji—for their alleged refusal to admit a seven-year-old boy who was reportedly suffering from dengue on 8 September. Following his death, the child’s parents committed suicide by jumping off a four-storey building in Lado Sarai, Delhi. Thenotice issued to these hospitalssought to know,“why an order of cancellation of registration of your nursing home/hospital should not be issued for refusing emergency medical care to the deceased child.”Less than a month ago, on 28 August, the directorate of health serviceshad issued an advisoryto all government and private hospitals, asking them “to ensure dengue patients requiring admission are not denied the same due to lack of beds.”

Private hospitalsare often given incentivesby the government in the form of inexpensive land leases on concessional rates under the stipulated conditions that these hospitals would provide a certain percentage of their beds for free to poor or indigent patients. However, as the case that prompted these show-cause notices has illustrated, these conditions are not always met. Ishan Marvel, a web reporter at The Caravan, investigates the story of one such patient at another private hospital, the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals facility in Sarita Vihar.

Ten-year-old Fuzail Ahmad, first started showing signs of ill health in July 2015. “He would quietly keep repeating certain words, such as khaana, khaana, khaana—food, food, food—and his voice kept receding,” Mohammad Zakir, Ahmad’s father told me when I met him at the Indraprastha Apollo hospital on 10 September. “Then, his right hand and left foot began to get rigid. We showed him to some local doctors and we even tried an ojha (healer), but his condition became worse,” he continued. “Finally, he was diagnosed with brain tumour at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital [in Connaught Place, Delhi] last week,” Zakir said, before adding, “But we were told that he wouldn’t get good treatment there, so we came to Apollo.” On 8 September, Ahmad’s family brought him to the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in Sarita Vihar to get him treated under the free healthcare program offered by the hospital to families that are below the poverty line (BPL).  Instead, the family was shuttled back and forth between doctors for hours without any conclusive signs of treatment for Ahmad. Despite his condition, Ahmad was not given a bed for nearly ten hours after he reached the hospital.

“We reached [sic] around 10 am,” Ahmad’s cousin Shahzad Ali recounted, “and we were made to run around from one place to another. We discussed our case with so many doctors and hospital staff, but to no avail. All this while, Ahmad was on a stretcher in the lobby.” At around 1 pm, Ahmad’s family met Pervez Mohammed, a local businessman who first brought this case to public attention. Mohammed told me that he regularly helps poor patients get treatment at private hospitals. By around 2.30 pm, Mohammed started making calls to local journalists and politicians that he knew. According to Mohammed, at around 4 pm, a neurologist inspected Ahmad and said that his condition was very critical. The neurologist referred Ahmad to a neurosurgeon, who ordered that he be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately.

A member of Ahmad’s family told me that the hospital claimed that the ICU had no free beds. After the Out Patient Department closed at 6 pm, Ahmad was left to wait on a stretcher in the lobby. An official hospital record file was created and Ahmad’s family was told that they would be given a bed by 7.30 pm. However, no bed was allocated by then. Meanwhile, Mohammed had called Amanatullah Khan, the member of the legislative assembly from Okhla who belongs to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A little before 8pm, Khan reached the hospital with Rakesh Sharma, the sub-inspector at the Sarita Vihar police station. “I think it was only because of them that Ahmad was finally given a bed around 8 [pm],” Ali told me.

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.

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