Doctors and paramedics risked their lives battling pandemic but some hospitals tarnished image of this noble profession. Words are not enough to thank and praise the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff who have set an example by relentlessly serving the patients in these difficult times. But there are several hospitals which are fleecing the patients and their relatives. These hospitals have disgraced the noble profession of medicine. It is high time such rapacious hospitals are reined in. At the same time, it is imperative to do the audit of the drugs manufacturing companies too.

I ndian culture elevates medical profession to nobility. The doctor is looked upon as a representative of God. The patients expect compassionate service and humanity from the doctors. During the pandemic, not only doctors but the nurses and paramedical staff too have set a good example by serving the masses in these trying times wholeheartedly and thus, shown their essential empathy towards the Covid patients. I know and read news about hundreds of doctors and nurses who have not taken any weekly off for more than a year now. They have not visited their homes for months. They have been working in two or even three shifts nonstop. Their only aim is to save the patient’s life at any cost. But then pessimism sets in when I read that some hospitals are exploiting the Covid situation to fleece the patients by overcharging them. This news makes me restless. The question that haunts me is how could a human being or an institution stoop so low? These black sheep are tarnishing the image of the noble medical profession, whose many members have laid down their lives battling the Covid pandemic. The Indian Medical Association reports that more than 400 doctors lost their lives during the second wave of Covid-19. If the death count of the first wave is added, the toll rises to more than 900. You can easily guess how many nurses and paramedical staff must have died. Thousands of doctors, nurses and paramedics contracted coronavirus, but they continued to serve patients ceaselessly without fear. Just try wearing a PPE kit for a while and you will start perspiring heavily. Now just imagine how these medicos must be feeling dressed in PPE kits for eight to 10 hours? Especially in an environment where even a slight omission could get the virus to pounce upon you! I salute such dedicated doctors, nurses and paramedical staff. The country will always be indebted to all such people but those who have exploited the pandemic to fleece the patients by overcharging them and those who exploited the pandemic situation as a means of making fast buck will neither be forgiven by the people nor by God. I also wrote in the same column that you may earn lakhs of rupees but there may come a time when you will not be around to enjoy your wealth! Why are these hospitals committing a daylight robbery? Let me narrate a story from Nagpur. One Covid patient was admitted to a renowned hospital in the city for treatment. In the next four-five days, his condition improved so much that he could go home but the hospital said that the patient would have to pay for the whole 14 days of treatment because he was admitted under the package! When the epidemic reached its peak, some hospitals introduced treatment packages. Since the beds were not available, people had to pay exorbitant prices. This is not the story of Nagpur alone; it typifies every part of the country. There is another story from Noida which reveals how the hospitals exploited the Covid situation to fill their own coffers. Some hospitals got several unemployed youths admitted by making fake corona positive reports so that the beds could be shown occupied on record. Those young people were also paid for acting as Covid patients. Whenever a real patient came, lakhs of rupees would be charged from him for bed and the treatment of a real patient would start by discharging one of the fake patients. Authorities received a tip-off and they raided the hospital and busted the scam. But the moot question is what action has been taken against the errant hospital; this has not been made public yet. I believe that such hospitals’ directors should be put behind the bars immediately. These health sector extortionists will not feel intimidated unless strict and immediate action is taken against them. Maut ka mela laga hain, Luteron ki kismat khuli hain, Bade bekhauf hain yeh luterein, Koi hain jo roke inhe? It is not possible that those in the corridors of power do not know about the scale of fleecing taking place, when it is all in public knowledge. Everyone knows how cheating is going on but healthcare is not our priority. But let us forget what happened so far and start anew. First of all, we need to simplify the process of becoming a doctor and minimise the cost involved in it. Why don’t we open more medical colleges and train more doctors? Today, if a person becomes a doctor by spending crores of rupees on education, incurs expenses worth crores in opening a hospital and buying expensive machines, he is eager to make quick returns on investment. The question is, if a machine is expensive, why don’t four doctors buy it together? This will benefit the patients too. My question is if the capital investment is worth Rs 100 crore, will you be able to recover it in one day? The government has to formulate a well-thought-out policy. The government must carry out the audit of the drugs manufacturing companies. Moreover, all the government and private sector hospitals should be equipped with all the necessary resources and equipment to ensure that every patient gets equal treatment, be it poor or rich. You can charge excess amount from the rich and less amount from the poor, but both should get the same facilities. Just as the developed countries have insured their citizens, we should also make similar arrangements. There, along with income tax, they collect insurance premium so that everyone gets free treatment. One more thing I want to stress is about the accuracy of the Covid death count. The World Health Organisation has just said that the actual figures may be three times more than the official figures released by the governments. India is widely believed to undercount its dead and this suspicion is in the air for several months now. More bodies than the number of deaths the government is revealing, are being cremated or buried. Those who cannot afford to perform last rites are dumping bodies of their near and dear ones in the river or burying them in the sand. There is despair everywhere! Mind is upset and feelings are numb. Let’s hope the situation will turn around soon!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.