THE health ministry’s asking all private medical colleges, hospitals and clinics to apply for licences or licence renewal by August 23 brings to the fore an unpalatable proposition that there are hospitals and clinics that run outside the purview of the legal framework. Such a situation makes it difficult for service-seekers to seek redress in cases of any accidents and for the authorities concerned to hold to account any errant entities that offer healthcare services or health education. The health ministry has also set up a task force to take action against any private hospitals and clinics that would run without approval after the deadline. But this appears to be the second such step in 2020 as the health ministry on July 23 issued another circular, giving all private hospitals and diagnostic centres to obtain or renew licences in a month. The health ministry earlier in 2018 issued a circular increasing licence renewal fees and more than 11,000 applications for licence or licence renewal have been pending with the Directorate General of Health Services since then. But, as health officials say, most of the applications have been filed in the past fortnight and the directorate issued or renewed 4,903 licences. After examination, 4,177 applications are ready for licence issuance or renewal and an estimated 3,000 applications had flaws.
In such a situation, health managers expect 4,000 more applications to come in by the new deadline of August 23. The health services directorate general, however, seeks to say that it does not have, as New Age reported on Monday, adequate human resources to inspect an estimated 18,000 private hospitals and clinics in operation. The excuse that the health services directorate general has given about the inspection of the entities is unacceptable as not all of them have come into existence overnight and the authorities have had enough time to deal with the issue effectively. Yet, about 5,000 licences having already been issued or renewed, about 4,000 more readied for issuance or renewal and about 3,000 set aside and about 4,000 expected to pour in by August 23 — all the figures added together against the total number of private hospitals and clinics paint a poor picture of licensing regime of entities offering health care in the private sector. While it is inordinate for private-sector healthcare entities to run unlicensed and for the government authorities to allow them to run without licences, the government also appears to have failed to shore up licensing issues. Hospitals and clinics in the private sector are reported to be requiring clearance and approval from 12 agencies and the harassment of licence-seekers in the process could be nothing new in view of the governance largely mired in corruption.
The government must, therefore, discipline private operators in the health sector with the required stringency. There is no room for the government to go lenient. But the government, at the same time, must also streamline the licensing process, by adding to human resources, strengthening capacity and purging the whole process of any corruption and irregularity. Any glitch in the process are certain to give rise to corruption, to the advantage of the operators in the private sector and licensing officials, but to the detriment of people and public health.
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