Non-COVID patients left in lurch

Hospitals ignore directives amid govt apathy

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 23:50, Jun 05,2020


Both public and private hospitals are ignoring the government orders to treat suspected coronavirus cases and non-COVID patients, multiplying their plight amid the coronavirus crisis.

The health ministry and the Directorate General of Health Services have issued several orders to ensure treatment for suspected COVID-19 patients and non-COVID patients as well as to make separate treatment arrangements for confirmed COVID-19 patients and general patients at all hospitals with 50 or more beds.

But the government regulatory authorities have remained reluctant to ensure the implementation of the orders.

‘It seems that there is none to care about the patients,’ said public health expert Rashid-e-Mahbub, blaming the lack of stewardship of the government in this regard during the pandemic.

‘It’s complete mismanagement,’ he expressed his disappointment.

The government on April 30 issued an order asking all the government and private hospitals with 50 or more beds to ensure treatment for all suspected COVID-19 patients.

And the order asked the hospitals, if not possible for them to admit the patients, to contact the COVID-19 Integrated Control Room keeping the patients at their premises for referring them to other hospitals.

The government on May 11 issued another order saying that non-COVID patients were suffering in their attempts to access treatment at hospitals.

‘Despite repeated meetings with the private hospital owners and public announcement to ensure treatment for the non-COVID patients, the orders are being flouted,’ it said. 

The notice further directed all the hospitals to ensure separate arrangement for the treatment of suspected COVID-19 patients and refer them, if not possible to admit them, after consulting the COVID-19 Integrated Control Room keeping the patients waiting.

The order warned that punitive measures, including the cancellation of licenses, would be taken if the orders were violated.

Again on May 24, the government issued another order directing all the government and private hospitals to ensure treatment for all — COVID-19 patients, suspected COVID-19 patients and general patients — with separate arrangements if the hospitals had 50 or more beds.

But all the government orders went unheeded, alleged patients and public health experts.

New Age closely followed several critical patients with COVID-19 symptoms and confirmed non-COVID patients while they were desperately running from one hospital to another for admission.

Even the Dhaka Medical College Hospital denied a critical patient, suffering from severe low oxygen saturation with breathing difficulties, after he failed to convince any private hospital in the capital to treat him.

The government chest disease hospital in the capital’s Shyamoli also denied treatment to chest disease patients though they were diagnosed negative for COVID-19.

Suspected COVID-19 patients are not accepted by hospitals on the argument that they must test negative before hospitalisation while accessing a COVID-19 test within a short time or even within a few days is extremely difficult now in the country.

Even patients having COVID-19 symptoms but testing negative are not admitted by hospitals on the pretext that the COVID-19 negative test reports are fake.

For dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, they deny suspected patients without a test report that says that the cases are COVID-19 positive. 

Against the abundance of incidents involving denial of treatment to non-COVID patients, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust on Thursday sent a legal notice to the health secretary and the Director General of the Health Services to ensure treatment for all.

The BLAST legal notice asked the secretary and the Health DG to take action against those who were violating their orders.

A writ petition would be filed within seven days of the failure to enforce the government directives as such failure would be considered a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens under Article 27, 31, 32 and 44 of the Constitution, said BLAST lawyer Rashna Imam in the legal notice.

Asked, Health Services additional director general Nasima Sultana declined to comment on the issue.

Health ministry spokesperson and additional secretary Habibur Rahman Khan said that they were allowing the private hospital owners some time to prepare their facilities.

‘We’d wait for two weeks,’ he said, adding, ‘Punitive measures will be taken after two weeks [after the last order on May 24].

Replying to a question he said that the private hospitals were repeatedly directed to ensure the treatment even from February and March but they did not carry out the orders.

‘It’s the last time they are being given the opportunity to prepare their hospitals,’ he said.

Habibur claimed that there was no scope for the public hospitals to deny treatment to patients and actions would be taken if specific allegations were made against any such hospital to them.

Rashid-e-Mahbub, also a former pro vice-chancellor of Banganadhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said that the government was shifting the blame to the private sector as they had failed to take the responsibility for patients during the pandemic.

The government in bordering India, he said, has acquired private hospitals to ensure the treatment for the COVID-19 patients.

‘It’s about huge management, huge mobilisation of manpower and equipment and costs as well for the private hospitals if they are to offer the treatment to the patients,’ said Rashid.

‘The private sector doesn’t take responsibilities without incentives,’ he observed.

‘It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure treatment for the citizens and unless they provide the incentives to the private hospitals, only issuing orders to provide treatment will not work,’ he commented.

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email