Public Healthcare Facilities to Be Handed Over to Private Sector in Gujarat, Punjab

The Punjab government is handing over “constructed and furnished” hospitals to private players.

New Delhi: The Punjab government has published advertisements in newspapers calling for private parties to run community health centres in urban and rural areas, and primary health centres in rural areas.

These are for buildings which have been set-up by the government and already “stand constructed and furnished”. But the government is “looking for private party(ies) to run some of these health institutions”.

The government says the centres will be in public-private partnership (PPP) mode, but the terms explained in the newspaper ad are heavily in favour of the private parties who come forward for this. The Punjab government says it will meet the deficit between expenditure and income for these hospitals, with an annual grant. This is apart from the money that will be recovered from patients.

The government has also already constructed and furnished the buildings. The private parties will need to come in with staff, and run and maintain the institution for a guaranteed term.

Healthcare received in public institutions in India is supposed to be free, in theory. Community health centres and primary health centres are mostly accessed by the poorest in areas with very few healthcare options, and charge very nominal rates. The government’s plan of recovering money from patients, and if not, paying the deficit, indicates a pro-private sector turn to the provision of public services.

Private health institutions can express their interest in this proposal by February 4, 2019, after which the Punjab government says it would begin the bidding process.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal criticised the Punjab government’s move. He said, “A govt which can’t run its schools and hospitals has no reason to continue in power.”

The Tribune reports that medical associations in Punjab have also opposed the government’s proposal. “These buildings were built in the ’60s and ’70s through public money and are not private estates. The chief minister and health minister want to make way for ‘plunderers’ who will fleece the rural poor,” said Dr Gagandeep Singh from the Punjab Civil Medical Services Association.

The Wire recently reported that the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme is also promising a range of benefits to private sector parties such as land and funding to make it lucrative for them to set up private hospitals to serve the public.

Also read: In the Wake of Ayushman Bharat Come Sops for Private Hospitals

Subsidised rates to private sector in Ahmedabad

Last week, another news report said that in Ahmedabad, beds and equipment from subsidised hospitals were being transferred to institutions which would charge private sector rates. This was happening at a new health facility which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating.

The BJP-run Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has allegedly decided to transfer beds from the city’s Sheth Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital (VS Hospital) to the new Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Institute of Medical Sciences and Research which Modi inaugurated. Trustees at VS Hospital and Chinai Maternity Home have filed an application in the Gujarat high court against the decision.

Both these hospitals reportedly serve patients from economically backward sections and charge nominal rates. The new Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Institute of Medical Sciences and Research will reportedly be run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and will charge private sector rates, according to the petitioners. Brijesh Chinai, one of the petitioners, says that the municipal corporation passed a resolution on this at a December board meeting last year.

The two charitable hospitals will reportedly be giving up about 500 beds, depleting their bed tally from 1,155 to around 500.

A municipal corporation official told the Indian Express, “Although we are following the tariff structure as in private hospitals, this can’t be called a move towards privatisation as AMC will continue to run the hospital.”