Health ministry seeks to halt hospital raids

Officials asked not to talk to media

Staff Correspondent | Published: 18:08, Aug 06,2020 | Updated: 00:43, Aug 07,2020


The health ministry has asked the home ministry to keep the law enforcement agencies from raiding government and private hospitals and asked health officials not to talk to the media without permission from the director general of the Directorate General of Health Services.

Amid the pressure from Bangladesh Private Medical College Association to end the mobile court operations at private hospitals, the health ministry on Monday in a letter requested the Public Security Division secretary to stop the raids arguing that the measure interrupted the routine work of the hospitals raided and dissatisfied them.

In case of any urgency for raiding any hospital, the letter requested the home ministry to inform the health ministry about it.

The letter stated that the home minister and the health minister had a dialogue on the issue.

On Wednesday, issuing an office circular the health ministry asked all its officials not to talk to the media without permission arguing that the government was often ‘embarrassed’ by the comments and statements by the health officials.

They need to take prior permission from the DG for giving interviews and comments and participating in events, the order said, adding that the officials talking to the media must be at least a director-level officer.

The order has already been sent to health officials, including the upazila helath officers, civil surgeons, superintendents, medical college principals, medical college hospital directors, all DGHS directors, all directors of the specialised hospitals and institutes, additional director generals and the DG of the DGHS. 

The health ministry letter pointed out that the Health Services Division had already formed a task force to inspect the operations of government and private hospitals, adding that a Public Security Division official of the joint secretary rank was in it.

On July 20 Bangladesh Private Medical College Association requested home minister Asaduzzaman Khan and health minister Zahid Maleque to stop the mobile court raids on private hospitals arguing that such raids were creating panic among the medical service providers and this might have adverse impact on the sector amid the coronavirus crisis.

The association’s president, Mubin Khan, told New Age that they sought ministerial intervention so that medical service providers across the country did not get panicky due to such raids in the name of unearthing corruption in COVID-19 testing and treatment processes.

The association approached the minister a day after the Rapid Action Battalion uncovered a COVID-19 testing scam in Shahabuddin Medical College Hospital in the capital’s Gulshan and detained two employees of the hospital.

The law enforcement agencies had earlier sealed off Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care and also arrested their owners for forging COVID-19 test certificates.

The move to curtail the media access to information was taken days after the DGHS DG Abul Bashar Md Khurshid Alam in his first press conference after taking charge on July 27 told journalists that health-related information and supply of that information would be streamlined.

The health sector has been in an image crisis since news of corruption and irregularities was exposed in recent days.

Earlier on April 23, Health minister Zahid Maleque directed health officials not to talk to the media saying that it went against the government’s policy.

After the COVID-19 situation got worse, then DGHS DG Abul Kalam Azad on April 7 said that the DGHS would not arrange press conferences anymore and would not answer questions from the press.

Rights activists and corruption watchdogs slated the health ministry decision to limit the access to information by restricting hospital raids.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh president Ghulam Rahman said that the health ministry and the DGHS completely failed to perform their responsibilities of monitoring and ensuring quality services at the hospitals.

‘They have failed to reduce corruption and monitor private hospitals and their doctors, who are unethically harassing the service seekers. So the government should not restrict law enforcers in taking action in case of any criminal activities,’ he said.

Shashya Adhikar Andolan joint convenor Farida Akhter termed the health ministry letter ridiculous.

‘The recent raids on private hospitals have unearthed various irregularities continuing for years resulting in the arrest of a criminal like Regent Hospital chairman Md Shahed,’ she said.

‘Such raids must continue for bringing back confidence of the service seekers,’ she said, adding that those hospitals which did not have any problem were not scarred of any raid.

Former caretaker government advisor M Hafiz Uddin Ahmed said that the health sector was one of the most corrupt sectors. ‘Measures must be taken to reduce corruption and irregularities,’ he added.    

Transparency International Bangladesh executive director Iftekharuzzaman said that the health ministry letter showed their lack of trust in law enforcement agencies and others mandated to conduct such raids.

‘Like the people in general the government now practically acknowledges that there is scope for abuse of power by such authorities. It also shows that the hospital authorities, private or public, who have succeeded in catalysing the scope, have no self-confidence that they can operate with honesty and integrity,’ he added.

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