LAHORE  -  Private hospitals are fleecing people through unnecessary surgeries, laboratory tests and prolonged hospitalization, with watchdogs like Punjab Healthcare Commission acting like silent spectators.

Public sector hospitals are patient hunting sites for these health facilities operating in every nook and corner of Lahore and other cities just by getting registration with the PHC.

There is no formula or mechanism to allow working of a health facility to distribute load of patients in specific areas, availability of staff and equipment, slabs for charging fee for different types of surgeries and diseases depending upon duration of hospitalization. The prevailing scenario has caused mushroom growth of private hospitals, majority of these resorting to corrupt moral practices for minting easy money without giving due rights to patients.

As these hospitals need to give due share to the facilitators-agents in public sector hospitals and general practitioners- patients are charged extra amount for all healthcare facilities from private room rent and surgeon fee to charges for clinical tests, operation theater and nursing care.

“Extra ordinary rush of patients at public sector hospitals and long queues for surgeries and tests like Angiography, CT Scan and MRI are major causes of people approaching expensive private hospitals. Agents in the ranks of doctors and paramedics suggest worried people to take their loved ones to specific private hospitals for ‘quality treatment’ from senior consultants. Similarly, hundreds of general practitioners are also part of this unethical referral system for monetary benefits”, said a doctor at Services Hospital who wanted not to be named due to fear of this organized mafia.

To give justification for expensive repeated clinical analysis and prolonged stay, hospital laboratories have set strict standards for normal values of blood tests, especially ESR that suggests level of infection.

“Normal values for almost all tests at laboratories of these hospitals are different from the ones in public sector and leading labs like Sir Agha Khan, Shaukat Khanum and Chughtai’s. The purpose of setting such strict standard for reference values is to show patients that their reports are not normal. It allows the doctors to get repeated tests and prolong stay of patients at expensive private rooms”, said a technician working at Pathology Lab of Punjab Institute of Cardiology. He said that PIC was charging Rs25 for CBC and Rs100 for LFT from a private patient. He said that labs at private hospitals were charging 8-10 times higher rates than the PIC. “Normal deliveries are routine at public sector hospitals but rarity at these private healthcare centres. These centres resort to C-Section just for money without taking into account the impact on mothers. In most of the cases, mothers can’t feed infants that put them at risk of several diseases. It is unfortunate that healthcare commission is merely acting as silent spectator”, lamented leading family physician Dr Abdul Rauf who is running clinic in densely populated Usman Gunj.

“Violation of rights of patients is a routine at most of the private health facilities. People pay huge amount for quality treatment from seasoned consultants. Consultants pay two to three visits after surgery and patients are left at the mercy of junior doctors for the entire period of hospitalization. This is mistreatment of patients”, said a doctor working at Medical Ward of Jinnah Hospital. He quoted the example of death of a female doctor at private hospital on Zafar Ali Road during C-Section that also caused the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice.

“Family took the ill fated doctor to known private hospital for quality treatment. Mishandling during C-Section led to her death. Following the incident, CJP also took notice of affairs of other such facilities in DHA, on Ferozepur Road and Canal Bank Road. He summoned CEOs of all leading private hospitals and inquired about available facilities and amount charged for treatment and different surgeries. Asking Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) to fix rates for various types of surgeries and treatment for different diseases is also a positive development. It is difficult but not impossible task for PMDC or PHC.

This has raised the hope of bringing these hospitals under a mechanism”, he said.

“PMDC or any regulatory body can categorize hospitals keeping in view qualification/experience of doctors/staff, availability of equipment and overall atmosphere at the health facilities. Slabs for diverse types of surgeries for different categories of hospitals could be formulated. Definitely duration of hospitalization and laboratory services will also come under consideration while formulating slabs for surgeries. Similarly, rates for treatment of various diseases can be fixed for different categories of hospitals while considering the same factors”, said senior consultant at PIC Dr Amer Bandesha who has also served as member PMDC.