MUMBAI: Every three of four hospital admissions for H1N1 in the city during 2015, when there was a nationwide outbreak of the infection, was in the private sector. The first such analysis by the civic body revealed public hospitals admitted only 23% of positive patients, raising questions on whether the private sector indulged in profiteering at times of distress. According to data, 3,029 needed hospitalization, of which 2,331 were admitted to private hospitals and nursing homes, while the rest went to civic and state hospitals. Maharashtra, including Mumbai, was one of the worst affected and a total of 906 lives were lost.
A senior civic official told TOI the numbers clearly suggest the Government of India’s hospitalization guidelines were not appropriately followed. “If everybody followed them, admissions should have been less. Private hospitals or doctors can’t deny they prey on fear in patients’ minds,” said the official.
Interestingly, the trend has been quite the opposite so far this year. Of the 285 hospitalizations analyzed, 161 (56%) have been in the public sector. “They (private hospitals) have been more restrained this year,” the official said. Under the guidelines there are three categories, depending on severity of symptoms and vulnerability of high-risk patients like pregnant women, senior citizens, children, people with hypertension, diabetes, etc.
While category A requires only close observation and home isolation, category C is most critical and requires testing, treatment and hospitalization. “Most patients probably come in category A. We admit all pregnant women with H1N1. Others like those vomiting blood, or with breathing difficulty need immediate admission. There is panic among patients but not everybody needs admission,” said Dr Nitin Karnik, head of medicine at the BMC-run Sion Hospital.
Physician Dr Hemant Thacker, who consults with Breach Candy Hospital, said people are petrified of H1N1 the way they were scared of dengue three years ago. “They often insist on getting hospitalised and for reasons of hygiene, level of care, etc they prefer a private hospital,” he said.
Intensivist at PD Hinduja Hospital, Dr Khusrav Bhajan, said the reason for the disparity lies elsewhere. “The gap is obvious as nobody wants to get isolated in Kasturba Hospital (BMC’s isolation facility for infectious diseases). Also, many people prefer to get hospitalised as they don’t want to spread it to their relatives,” he said. Suneeta Bandewar, secretary of Forum for Medical Ethics, said that while there are lot of systemic issues in the public hospitals, profiteering is a given in the private sector as the economic stakes are high.
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