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A bolt from the blue for patients at AIIMS

Staff Reporter

Many free medical tests now come with a charge, others come with a higher charge

NEW DELHI: It was chaos and confusion all the way at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here on Tuesday with the country's premier public hospital levying charges for many tests and medical investigations that were free so far and introducing "revised hospital charges" in other cases without any prior public announcement. Coming into effect unannounced, the revision in charges for the various investigations and surgical/operative procedures, aids and appliances caught many patients unawares.

The hikes resulted in long queues, delays in medical procedures, and in some cases even patients leaving without treatment.

Hardest hit were those coming in from long distances for treatment and tests who were told that the previously free-of-cost tests including routine blood tests, sugar tests, malaria tests, liver tests, kidney tests, ECG and blood gas level test would now come under the "charged for" category.

With the hospital putting up no price lists or information about the sudden hikes, most people coming in to deposit money were told about the new charges only at the cash counters.

"Tempers ran high and there was confusion in the morning at the hikes introduced without any notice. Most people got to know about it only when they reached the cash counter to clear their bills or deposit money for medical procedures. The hospital should not hike costs for routine tests that will hit the common man the hardest. With rumours about the hospital now planning to hike the charge for the admission card, patients were subjected to a lot of avoidable trouble,'' rued Bipin Varshney from Aligarh, who had brought in a relative for a bone marrow transplant.

According to a hospital directive dated November 23, no charges will be levied for any investigation/special procedures for Casualty patients, Employees' Health Scheme beneficiary patients and bona fide students of AIIMS. "Exemption of charges for poor patients will be allowed as per existing guidelines."

For private ward patients, the particulars of the investigation done and charges would be mentioned in the face-sheet and incorporated into their bill.

Defending the revision of hospital charges, AIIMS' senior Financial Adviser Mayank Sharma said: ``It is only a marginal increase. We have rationalised the existing charges, wherein we have looked at compulsions of the market and adjusted the costs that have remained stagnant for the past ten years now. We want to reiterate that poor patients will not suffer in any manner due to the hike. In fact, costs of several procedures including AIDS tests, plasma testosterone, CEA and Beta Heg have been reduced.''

Meanwhile, the Joint Council of Health Employees' Organisation, representing Group B, C, D employees of hospitals and other medical establishments have condemned the AIIMS move. ``We condemn the decision of the Administration to levy charges on all tests.

It would put AIIMS out of reach of the common public. How can we allow the hospital to function as a commercial unit?'' asked the vice-president of the Joint Council of Health Employees' Organisation, S. S. Rana.

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