The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Card tricks & the sick
- Mayor’s patient draws a ‘blank’

The farce in the name of providing free treatment to the poor, at government and referral hospitals in West Bengal, continues unchecked.

Even after the lid was blown off the scam involving misuse of below-poverty line (BPL) cards and free-treatment certificates at hospitals, patients are flocking there with “faulty” recommendations. The latest in the sham list is a blank “free treatment” certificate issued by mayor Subrata Mukherjee (on his official letterhead, with his signature and seal), produced by a patient at Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute (CNCI).

According to senior CNCI officials, the certificate was “illegal” as it did not mention the name of the patient, his address or income details. According to norms, only those with a monthly income of Rs 314 or below in the urban areas and Rs 275 or below in the rural areas are eligible for free treatment at government hospitals, on the recommendation of ward councillors, panchayat heads, MLAs or MPs.

“A blank certificate can be misused by anyone and the mayor, of all people, cannot issue one to a patient without verifying his antecedents and filling up the necessary details. Such certificates cannot be issued on the basis of personal faith. It has to conform to norms,” said a medical officer at the hospital.

When asked, the mayor was at a loss to explain how the certificate had surfaced at the hospital. “Such blank certificates signed by me are kept in our office. We issue them to poor patients after verifying their source of income and antecedents. But I don’t know how the patient got hold of a blank certificate,” said Mukherjee. He added that it was difficult to issue free treatment certificates to “genuine poor patients” in the city. “Is it possible for a person to survive on an income of Rs 314 a month in a metro' Where do we draw the poverty line'’’ he asked.

Mukherjee, however, hinted that sometimes, “circumstances compelled councillors to issue such certificates, mostly under pressure from slum-dwellers”.

According to CNCI sources, the patient, from outside the city, had to undergo a series of “investigations”, like blood tests, X-rays and a scan colour Doppler test for suspected cancer at the base of the tongue. “He wanted to know how to fill up the form,” said the oncologist, who treated the patient.

Earlier, the hospital had detected several cases in which Bangladeshi nationals had availed of free treatment on the basis of “doctored” BPL certificates. Most of the patients, residents of Dhaka, Narayanganj and Jessore and other districts bordering West Bengal, furnished local addresses and managed to get the certificates from a network of touts operating in the border districts.

According to officer in-charge of CNCI, Dr Joydeep Biswas, the hospital has decided to form a “screening committee” to verify the BPL certificates. The committee will be headed by a senior medical administrative officer and assisted by a social welfare official and a permanent hospital doctor.

“We have decided to form the panel as soon as possible. Discrepancies in BPL certificates are rampant and I personally know of patients who availed of free tests in our hospital on the basis of BPL certificates, showing Rs 500 as the total family income, and then underwent surgery at a private hospital in Mumbai,” said Biswas.

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