Private hospitals must do more to shoulder the burden of COVID-19 in India

Picture credit: NIAID, via Wikimedia Commons

In their recent article in The Wire – The Government Must Stop Appeasing the Private Healthcare Sector – Ramila Bisht and Rama Baru criticise timid and fragmented attempts by the Indian government to draw on the capacity of the country’s large private hospital sector during the COVID-19 response, concluding with the observation that:

‘The private healthcare sector is more focused on seeking government support for itself, rather than volunteering to partner with the government in dealing with a public health crisis.’

In this post they call for firmer action to be taken: a requisitioning of private hospitals to ensure equitable provision of services to the public during the current public health crisis.

Private hospitals must do more to shoulder the burden of COVID-19 in India

The private healthcare sector in India is quintessentially playing an extremely limited role being to help the government to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and has left public hospitals to cope almost entirely with the disease burden. The private sector has found itself totally unprepared to face a pandemic of such serious proportions, as they are inadequately equipped with safety gear and the local knowledge and expertise regarding this deadly lethal virus. In fact, their preparation has been so lacking and deficient that they have been unable to prevent infections amongst their own staff, which has led to the forced closure of many private hospitals.

But what is worse is that in the midst of this crisis, the private sector has sought a wide range of benefits, relief packages, subsidies and exemptions from the government, as compensation for the financial losses it has incurred due to the reduced ‘regular patient’ footfall that is inevitable during the pandemic and as a result of the lockdown. The continued absence of political will to requisition the private sector, as a well thought out strategy to ensure its systematic involvement, is both baffling and problematic.

Instead of bailing private hospitals out, the Indian government should require private hospitals to make their ICU facilities and isolation wards available immediately, and work closely with the public sector hospitals to alleviate the severe burden of people with moderate and severe COVID-19 cases that require hospitalisation.

The National Disaster Management Act has provisions for the government to requisition required services from the private sector to handle national emergencies and public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government must invoke this right immediately to force private hospitals to provide emergency services to the public.