The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt ails for private health

Calcutta, Oct. 27: In 1977, when the Left Front came to power, nursing homes in Calcutta numbered 350-odd.

After 26 years, the number has touched 2,000.

Under Left rule, Bengal would appear to be a good place to do business in for private capital. Not quite true because industry has withered. Only in health and education, where governments in many countries have a large role, private business has grown as the front administration has provided indirect encouragement by curtailing its own role.

Two of Calcutta’s five teaching hospitals have not seen an increase in the number of beds in 26 years. One has witnessed a sharp drop. The other two have grown, but the net rise in 26 years has been all of 400-odd beds, say officials. In the 30 years to 2001, the state’s population has nearly doubled to 8.02 crore.

The Indian Medical Association and the Medical Service Centre, both with a cross-section of doctors, medical students and teachers as members, agree that by default — and not by policy — the government has created space for nursing homes, where there is no monitoring of quality.

“The total collapse of the public sector has helped private sector growth immensely,” said Mridul Sarkar, spokesperson for the Medical Service Centre.

IMA state branch head Malay Patra agreed. Referring to the growing violence against doctors and analysing it as an “expression of loss of faith” in the government health service, he said: “Doctors are getting the stick as they serve without the necessary infrastructure.”

On the contrary, a spokesperson for the nursing home owners’ association said the number of middle-class and lower middle-class patients turning to the private sector is “going up steadily”.

Without commenting on the role of the government, Sajal Dutta, the president of the Association of Hospitals in Eastern India, said business is looking up.

“Much of the private sector clientele now comes from a class that went nowhere but a state-run hospital two decades back,” another official said.

In the thick of controversy over a series of recent hospital tragedies, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said: “We plan to increase the number of beds in the teaching hospitals in the next financial year.”

Mishra’s announcement last week of having observation centres in hospitals to decide whether a patient needs emergency treatment or not is greeted with scepticism. S.. Banerjee, former principal of Calcutta National Medical College who retired as the director of medical education in 2001, said observation centres were always there in the rulebook. “They were just not implemented.”

Education — particularly at school level — tells the same story. Officially, 82 per cent of schoolgoers stop studying before passing Madhyamik. But private “English-medium” schools, most of which don’t exist in record books and where there is no monitoring of quality — just as in the case of nursing homes — are mushrooming.

“If that isn’t abdicating responsibility, what is'” asked educationist Sunanda Sanyal.

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