The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Where patients fear to tread
- Poor stake all to steer clear of treatment at state-run hospitals

Swapan Naskar drives a gynaecologist to work, at Medical College and Hospital, so he knows more about government-run hospitals than most. Diagnosed with malignant malaria recently, he was first admitted to Chittaranjan Hospital. Two days later, his family rushed him to a private hospital. Today, he is poorer by Rs 100,000 and depends on his neighbours to make ends meet — but he is fit to fight on.

Even the poor are now fleeing free, government “treatment” for expensive private care in and around the city. Ornaments are being pawned, land is being sold and friends are being petitioned for loans as even those who can’t really afford private healthcare, decide increasingly that they would rather not risk their lives in a government hospital.

Take Naskar’s case. He doesn’t earn enough to go to the city’s more expensive healthcare institutes. But 48 hours of stay at one of the five major teaching hospitals of the city convinced him and his family that a longer stint there could only mean death. He was shifted, first to a private hospital near Dhakuria and then to another in Salt Lake.

A fortnight’s stay cost him Rs 80,000. Naskar was forced to return to the government’s care (at Sambhunath Pandit Hospital) after even the most helpful of neighbours could no longer bear the burden. Today, Naskar is desperately making paper packets in his spare time to repay his neighbours.

Smita Midda (name changed) has been detected with a condition leading to decreasing blood-flow to the brain. Her husband, Gopal, brokers land and struggles to eke out a living. They have heard that SSKM Hospital is the only place that can cure her. But they refuse to head there.

“We may be poor but we know what happens there,” the husband explains. He has two options: a private hospital off the EM Bypass or treatment “at Vellore”. The minimum estimated expenditure: Rs 50,000. “I am now trying to muster up the finances,” says Midda.

But there are those who cannot. When Aditya Maiti, a village schoolmaster from Namkhana, suffered a cerebral attack, brief stints at two state-run hospitals at Kakdwip and Diamond Harbour convinced him to steer clear of the rest. So he was brought to relative Nikhilesh Pradhan’s place in Garia, which was virtually turned into a “private nursing home” for six weeks. “We couldn’t risk shifting him to a state hospital or afford a private hospital,” said Pradhan. “Six weeks of treatment cost only Rs 30,000 at home,” he added.

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