- Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh governments have taken over some private hospitals
- Several states are earmarking select government hospitals as dedicated COVID-19 hospitals; Andhra Pradesh has identified four
- Move expected to bring in public accountability of private hospitals
- Monitoring and adherence to protocol crucial
- Clarity still needed on the costing and funding during the period private hospitals remain under government control
More Indian states are adopting the model of harnessing resources with private hospitals in fight against coronavirus. After three Indian states - Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh - acquired private medical institutions for handling coronavirus cases, Andhra Pradesh government has followed suit. As of April 2, it has taken over 17 private medical colleges and hospitals, and two large hospitals - one each in Ongole and Ananthapur. Control of these establishments has been given to respective district collectors and they will be used as and when the need arises.
These are in addition to four state government hospitals - one each in Tirupati, Vijayawada, Vizag and Nellore - that the state has declared dedicated COVID-19 hospitals. State Aarogyasri CEO A Mallikarjuna told Business Today that more could be roped in, if required. There are as many as 470 private hospitals in Andhra Pradesh (with cumulative capacity of 44,000 beds) working with state government's Aarogyasri programme, a healthcare scheme to provide quality healthcare to the poor.
According to some private hospitals in Karnataka, state government there too is in talks with the private sector to explore various options to harness their capabilities. All eyes now, however, are on how the decision to takeover private hospitals will be executed while addressing associated concerns. The private sector has raised worries around the costs involved, whereas independent experts are concerned about ensuring public accountability of the private sector.
"It is not clear in terms of how any move to take control of the private hospitals will be operationalised and who will pay for hospital staff during this period and bear other expenses. Also, whether this system would work better than giving a directive to the private hospitals to admit all COVID-19 patients is another question," a senior official at a large private hospital chain said.
Despite these concerns, it is becoming clear that government hospitals alone may not be enough to manage the fallout of coronavirus, underlining the importance of enlisting services of the private hospitals. In fact, experts have termed this as an important measure to deal with the challenges posed by novel coronavirus.
Rama V Baru, professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, feels the move to takeover private hospitals could work well as "it rationalises the resources and given that many in the private sector already have the ICUs, human resources in place, this may be a better option than focusing on converting stadiums into hospitals or creating new healthcare facilities."
Also, this may be the best available option at a time when there is a resource crunch and a public sector infrastructure is stretched thin. It could also help ensure that the private hospitals are made more publicly responsible and accessible to those in need. What may be important is to ensure that there are protocols for them to follow backed by a system of monitoring so that there is public accountability of the private sector, Baru said. How that will be ensured, needs to be seen. Also, what is also being observed is if these arrangements would work better if there is a visible central command.