In spite of the fact that the Delhi health department has taken steps to provide economically weaker sections (EWS) with free treatment in private hospitals, a defunct information disbursal system on the status of such reserved beds makes availing this benefit cumbersome.
"How would a patient eligible for free treatment know which private hospital has beds vacant and which does not," said Ashok Aggarwal, lawyer and social activist.
He said that since a resident of any state in India – whoever is economically weak – is eligible for free treatment in these hospitals in Delhi, a pro-active information disbursal system is necessary.
"Many patients from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar are referred to private hospitals in Delhi. But which hospitals in Delhi will they be referred to, if the data about availability of free beds is not in public domain?" Aggarwal asks.
Aggarwal adds that it is the responsibility of the Delhi government to ensure that the beds reserved for private hospitals remain occupied.
In the year 2007, the Delhi High Court had ordered the hospitals which had received an allotment of land from the Delhi government to reserve 10 percent of their beds for free treatment to EWS. The high court also formed a monitoring committee to ensure a proper disbursal of benefits.
Aggarwal, who is a member of the committee told Firstpost that there are 43 such private hospitals in the capital that have a total of 635 beds reserved for economically weaker sections.
Earlier, Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain had announced that the state government will take on itself the responsibility of monitoring of occupancy of free beds.
"Delhi government has a stake in these institutions," he said.
Much to the satisfaction of the poor patients, the health department also introduced an online monitoring system for EWS beds in private hospitals in the year 2014.
"Online booking of free bed (s) will facilitate the smooth transfer of critical and non-critical indoor EWS patients to identified private hospitals," SCL Das, the then principal secretary health said.
The official also added that 78 patient welfare officers had been appointed in Delhi government hospitals to man helpdesks, identify EWS patients and facilitate their referral and assist public in getting information on access to health services.
"The online booking system really worked well. A patient would get information about vacant beds on the website of the health department and apply for a bed according to his convenience. But a year ago, suddenly, uploading of information in the health department's website stopped," he complained.
The member of the monitoring committee added that this has caused a serious issue in the implementation of the high court order.
"The very motto of the order was to facilitate free admission and free exit to and from the hospitals. The health department has also recently eased availing of this benefits by issuing a circular, ordering the hospitals to admit patients even if they give only an undertaking that they belong to the EWS," he said.
Earlier, the health department issued an order not to admit patients in this category on the basis of income certificates submitted by them. But later the government reinstated the norm of accepting income certificate or an undertaking by the patient as valid proof of income.
As per present rules, anyone who earns minimum wage or less than that is eligible to avail this benefit.
"But after the information disbursal system became defunct, merely having a certificate of income or undertaking is no more enough. The patient now has to spend a considerable amount of time to find a hospital that has vacant beds for economically weaker sections," Aggarwal said.
To ensure hassle free and timely treatment to economically weaker sections, Aggarwal emphasised on the need to restart the online booking system of beds again.
But the health department simply passes the buck to the Delhi State Health Mission, stating that updating information of EWS beds is not the department’s responsibility.
"The Mission outsourced the job of uploading information to the system to a private company. But a year ago, the agreement with the company expired. Since then, the work of updating the system with information about free beds has stopped. I hope the Mission appoints someone to resume the work," said Hem Prakash, additional director health.
Firstpost tried to contact the Delhi State Health Mission office but was told that the Mission officials do not entertain the media.
Updated Date: Jun 06, 2017 15:15 PM