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Apollo eyes British patients

New Delhi, June 25: Apollo hospitals, a premier medical institution with branches throughout India, is negotiating with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) for referring and transferring a chunk of their patients to Apollo.

“We are expecting the negotiations to work out in another six to seven months,” says Delhi Apollo’s managing director Dr Y. Mehrotra.

The NHS has a long list of patients who are waitlisted for months before their treatment can begin. “Once this arrangement is put in place, some of the waitlisted patients can be transferred to Apollo's cardiac, orthopaedic and ophthalmology departments,” Mehrotra says. These departments, he clarifies, are the institution's areas of strength.

“The facility will be available not only for non-resident Indians but any patient keen on having an early appointment and treatment,” Mehrotra says.

Escorts, a premier institute of cardiology, is also interested in exploring the possibility of a tie-up with the NHS. “There is a lot of money in it,” he says.

The move of tying up with internationally reputed medical institutions and health care services is a part of the health policy laid down in the last budget. Finance minister Jaswant Singh projected India as an “attractive” health destination with a series of tax concessions for private investors.

In tune with this vision, the Confederation of Indian Industry has already sent a delegation to the UK to explore the possibility of insurance companies there recognising Indian hospitals. “The CII has a national commission on health care which is expected to make another trip to the UK this September,” says an official.

The private sector, which accounts for about 70 per cent of India's health care market, welcomed the budget announcement on the grounds that it would boost domestic investment in health care as well as send a signal to foreign investors that India is ready for business.

What makes India an attractive health destination is its relatively cheap health care costs. For instance, a single tooth filling here costs $10 against $300 in the US, while the average cost of a cardiac surgery in any one of India’s best hospitals is $4,500, far less than what is charged in the US.

“The success rate of cardiac surgery here is almost 98 per cent,” says a doctor.

Those with the voluntary health sector, however, are critical of private hospitals like Apollo, which, they say, have only set their sights on making more profit. “They are not fulfilling their obligations of reserving 20 per cent free beds for the under-privileged,” says A. Sen Gupta, a doctor.

Mehrotra disagrees. “They want us to provide materials and drugs free of cost, in which case it will be impossible for us to break even,” he says. Apollo is fighting a case following a PIL against the hospital for not providing materials and drugs free of cost.

Mehrotra rejects the voluntary sector’s view that opening up the health market will not benefit the masses. “Any kind of competition is good. Government hospitals will be forced to tone up once there is competition,” he says.

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