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May 30, 2020

Private hospitals deny reaching any agreement after govt notifies committee to refer patients to them


May 30, 2020

Despite the fact that no agreement has been reached yet between five private hospitals in Karachi and the Sindh health department for the treatment of ‘critically-ill but needy’ COVID-19 patients at the provincial government’s expense, the Sindh health department on Friday constituted and notified a ‘referral committee’ and nominated a focal person for referring the COVID-19 patients to the private hospitals for treatment, The News learnt on Friday.

To deal with the limited space for the patients infected with coronavirus at the government hospitals, the Sindh government had been in talks with the management of five private hospitals — Liaquat National Hospital, Dr Ziauddin Hospitals, South City Hospital, Patel Hospital and Altamash General Hospital — in order to refer to them COVID-19 patients, once the government facilities had no space.

According to the health authorities, all the five private hospitals have established separate COVID-19 wards with high dependency units (HDUs), intensive care units (ICUs)and ventilators and all these health facilities have their own laboratories for the testing and diagnosis of COVID-19.

The five private hospitals, according to the government proposal, would treat COVID-19 patients referred to them by the Sindh government at the latter’s expense. However, no agreement has so far been reached in this regard but still somehow the health department notified a committee for referring COVID-19 patients to these private facilities.

“No agreement or memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed between five leading private hospitals and the Sindh health department for treating COVID-19 patients at the government’s expense. A draft MoU had been prepared for the agreement but we had some reservations on it, due to which no progress has been made in this regard so far,” said Dr Asim Hussain, the chairman of Dr Ziauddin Hospitals, while talking to The News.

At present, only seven health facilities are offering treatment to the COVID-19 patients free of charge but all the beds in their COVID-19 treatment wards are packed to capacity. The seven facilities include Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Dr Ruth KM Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi, Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), Ojha Campus of the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), Indus Hospital Karachi, Lyari General Hospital and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Trauma Centre.

Since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Sindh on February 26, 2020, the provincial health department has been trying to persuade private health facilities to treat needy COVID-19 patients but the private hospitals seem to be unwilling to share the provincial government’s burden without an agreement and payment of expenditures in advance, arguing that it is extremely difficult to get bills cleared from the health department.

Expressing his ignorance of any notification regarding the appointment of a focal person or constitution of a referral committee by the Sindh health department, Dr Asim said private hospitals were not satisfied with some of the conditions or clauses of the draft MoU and unless the dispute was resolved, no agreement could be reached between the provincial government and the private hospitals.

“The government wants us to fix beds for their patients in the high dependency units and intensive care units while we have told them that beds would only be made available to their patients on condition of availability. Secondly, we have told them that only standard treatment would be offered on the package offered by the government. Cost of new and costly antiviral and other modern drugs would not be covered under the package,” Dr Asim maintained.

Under the draft MoU, the private hospitals were to charge the government Rs65,000 for the treatment of a patient in an HDU and Rs110,000 in an ICU per day for the treatment of critically-ill patients who could not afford their treatment themselves.

The administration of two other private hospitals, the South City Hospital and Liaquat National Hospital, also denied reaching any agreement with the Sindh government.

“No agreement has been reached between us and the Sindh health department regarding the treatment of COVID-19 patients at the government’s expense but we would not refuse any patient if they are referred to us by the authorities. But at the moment, we are packed to capacity and are not taking any more COVID-19 patients,” South City Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr Sadia Rizvi told The News.

“I don’t know why the agreement has not been reached between the private hospitals and the government because Dr Asim Hussain is representing the private hospitals. But we are not refusing any patient. At the moment, our COVID-19 ward is packed to capacity. We have a 27-bed COVID-19 ward but we are adding 14 more beds to enhance its capacity to 41 from Monday onwards,” Dr Rizvi said.

The Liaquat National Hospital (LNH) administration also denied reaching any agreement with the provincial government on the treatment of COVID-19 patients, saying that they were admitting all the COVID-19 patients as they had enhanced the COVID-19 treatment ward facility to 50 beds from 34 beds in the start.

“We have not reached any agreement with the Sindh health department or the government for the treatment of needy patients at the government’s expense but we are treating patients as usual. If the government sends somebody for treatment, even without any agreement, we would treat the patient. We are also open for all other patients who are not infected with coronavirus and having other health issues and problems,” Liaquat National Hospital Managing Director Dr Salman Faridi said.

Minister’s version

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho said they had ‘almost reached an agreement’ with the private hospitals, adding that the MoU would likely be signed on Saturday or Monday with the five hospitals for the treatment of needy COVID-19 patients at the Sindh government’s expense.

“The health department has constituted a committee comprising the chief technical adviser of the health secretary along with Sindh Healthcare Commission officials and others to inspect and monitor the facilities at the ‘Core Group of Private Hospitals’ where patients would be referred to for treatment before signing an MoU with them,” Dr Azra said in response to queries regarding the confusion over the government’s agreement with the private hospitals.

Regarding the notification for the appointment of a focal person and constitution of a referral committee, she said it was a draft notification, which was yet to be signed by the Sindh health secretary. She added that once the MoU was signed between the two parties, both the focal person and the referral committee would be formally notified.