Private clinics, labs thrive on ailing public health sector

Published on March 11, 2014 at 11:46 am

Private clinics, labs thrive on ailing public health sector

RAWALPINDI: This garrison city boasts of three major public sector hospitals, but for circumstances beyond their control, patients have to rely on mushrooming private medical centres, clinics and laboratories.
The situation is in contrast to the avowed unrelenting efforts of the provincial government to provide healthcare to the suffering humanity at public hospitals.
Thousands of patients, including many from adjoining as well as far-flung areas, daily visit Holy Family Hospital (HHF), Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) and District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ).
Representing a significant leap forward in the filed of health facilities, the government has recently established Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology (RIC) as well as a renal transplant centre of international standard, both costing multimillion rupees. But a majority of sufferers calling daily at the public sector hospitals is advised to see specialist/professor doctors privately and get more authentic medical tests from particular labs outside, according to information gathered from patients, hospital staff and other relevant quarters.
An estimated 6,000 to 7,000 patients daily visit the outdoor patient departments (OPDs) of HFH, BBH and DHQ, where facilities like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), CT scan and complete range of hepatitis tests are missing.
“Only DHQ has CT scan facility, which is overburdened, as patients are also referred from HFH and BBH,” a source in the Health Department told APP, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The CT scan is conducted at the hospital free of cost, while private laboratories charge Rs 5,000 to Rs 9,000, depending on the nature of the case.
The lone MRI machine installed at HFH has been dysfunctional for the last four years, according to the staff, for non-availability of funds.
Consequently, patients have to spend Rs 7,000 to Rs 12,000 on the tests from private laboratories.
“PCR quantitative (low-priced) medical tests including biopsy are conducted at the hospitals, but for the PCR qualitative or expensive, patients are referred to private facilities,” a source said.
Making startling revelations, sources said that around 70 percent of the laboratories were functioning without appropriate equipment and without maintaining required temperature at the facilities.
“The situation renders results of tests highly doubtful; so putting precious lives at risk,” a doctor revealed.
According to sources, the Executive District Health (EDO) Office has no record of registered or unregistered private medical centres and laboratories, whose number runs into hundreds.
As many as 80 per cent of private medical centres, clinics and laboratories are said to be owned or being run on partnership basis by doctors working at the government hospitals. And doctors grab 50 per cent commission on the cases they refer, sources say.
Talking to APP, patients coming from distant localities complained that they faced great difficulties in getting treatment as facilities of MRI, CT Scan and Hepatitis related tests are missing at the government hospitals, forcing them to go to private laboratories. Zaheer Abassi, an attendant of a sick child at HFH, said private labs are charging upto Rs 12,000 for MRI, a price most families cannot afford.
He and many others suspected manipulation on the part of people in the hospital administrations to create such condition as would enable them to divert patients to private facilities for tests for the sake of personal gains.
“The MRI machine at HFH remains out of order but unfortunately nothing has been done to repair and restore it,” Abbasi said.

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