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Government hospitals have a long way to go, say experts

Liffy Thomas and
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The expenditure incurred by Somnath Bhujia and family is far too high, forcing them to seek shelter on platforms.— Photo: S.S. Kumar
The expenditure incurred by Somnath Bhujia and family is far too high, forcing them to seek shelter on platforms.— Photo: S.S. Kumar

When P. Narasimhulu returns to his village in Nellore, he knows there is a huge debt that his family has to repay. His 48-year-old agriculturist brother suffered a sudden neurological disorder and underwent a surgery at a private hospital in Adyar recently.

The operation has cost the family three times more than what a government hospital charges, but they have little qualms about that. “It was an emergency surgery that had to be done. Although I have great faith in government hospitals, their waiting period is too long...I could not take a chance,” says Mr. Narasimhulu.

Also, he says, language is a huge constraint while conversing with doctors and paramedical staff in government hospitals. “We are paying an interest of two per cent on the loan, which we do not get as return from the land. Back home we might even have to sell the land,” he adds.

Though Chennai continues to draw a good number of people, both from other States and countries for its medical services, it largely is restricted to the private sector. The government hospitals in the city do boast of state-of-the-art equipment and doctors, but experts say they have a long way to go to match competition from private hospitals.

Patients choose a private hospital even before they arrive in the city. The Bhujias from Chhattisgarh, for instance, are waiting for their 10-year old daughter, Bitty Devi, to regain vision. The couple first came to the city in May last year for her eye surgery. Since then they have made five visits, costing the family of daily wage labourers several thousands of rupees. “We have left our 15-year-old son back home, and he cries every day,” says the mother with tears in her eyes. The treatment expenditure of Rs.90,000 has been taken care of by the Chhattisgarh government. But the other expenses in the city are way too much for the family to afford.

“The doctor keeps asking us to come back every time and we stay on roadside platforms and at railway stations,” says Somnath Bhujia, adding that the city is still a better option for health care.

Deepak Das, who is in the city to visit two hospitals for treating his son and mother, came to the city as it is hassle-free. “In most other places, including Assam, treatment takes a long time. We hear that in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai we would have to go through agents for treatments, while in Chennai we have not faced any such issue.”

Private sector scores over government hospitals in amenities such as hospitality and after-care services. Over the last few years, the latter too have been enhancing their services. For instance, pay wards were introduced at government hospitals. According to J. Mohanasundaram, retired dean, Madras Medical College, the paid wards were started for the middle class who seek treatment in government hospitals. The rates are nominal and they draw a good number of patients, but it is yet to cater to the requirements of more patients.

“Government hospitals do not have the proper manpower at paid wards,” he says. According to Dr. Mohanasundaram, the main goal of government hospitals is to cater to the downtrodden and the sector has been doing good work. Challenges like overflowing patients and poor resources restrict its role. “We have to first cater to people from Tamil Nadu after which we can concentrate on people from other states,” he adds.

Private sector scores over government hospitals in amenities such as hospitality and after-care services

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