Even as Bombay High Court (HC) has said that state charitable hospitals have to provide free treatments or at subsidised costs along with medicines to the underprivileged people, the charity commissioner remains routinely flooded with plaints regarding expenditures. Patients have claimed that they were forced to pay for medicines, spending thousands of rupees daily. They have also said that drug stores are outsourced by the hospitals.
“We received plaints from patients saying they were given prescriptions by hospitals and asked to buy medicines from drug stores. Several underprivileged people are forced to pay despite there being a ruling which calls for free medicines or subsidies,” said Shivkumar Dige, state charity commissioner.
The HC ruling, upheld by Dige, involves a public benefit scheme framed in 2016, wherein all the charitable hospitals have to earmark and reserve 10 per cent of their beds for indigent patients, and 10 per cent for economically weaker sections. Furthermore, treatment and medication have to be free of cost for a patient whose annual income is not more than Rs 85,000 and a 50 per cent discount is to be given to patients whose family income is below Rs 1.60 lakh.
Given that the patients were still paying up, Dige said that they have issued a circular for rigorous implementation. “We have issued circular three days ago to all hospitals across the state emphasising that medicines have to be provided free of cost to the patients. The medicine has to be made available if the drug source is outsourced,” he said.
The order was received across city. Ruby Hall Clinic’s chief executive officer and president of Group of Charitable Trust Hospitals, Bomi Bhote, said that they are not charging for the medicine. “It is unlawful of hospitals to ask apatient to pay for medicine if he/she is admitted under a scheme. They cannot say that the drug store is outsourced. In any case they are supposed to buy it and provide to the patient,” he said, adding, that the medicines, wherever they are purchased from, has to be charged at the purchased price which can be later debited from indigent patients’ fund.
The functioning of hospitals prior to this circular has come heavily upon patients like Sunil Salunke, a resident of Parvati. When his mother was admitted to Poona Hospital, he was handed a prescription for six times, asking for injections. This, despite him possessing a certificate that said his annual income was Rs 82,000. He claimed that the prescription was given to saying that the hospital has no medicine. Initially, he purchased it from a drug store at the hospital. Then, someone told him about a store in Sadashiv Peth, where he bought it for lower price.
“If the scheme calls for free treatment what sense it make if we have to indirectly pay thousands of rupees for the treatment?” he said.