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Bengaluru Covid bed shortage isn’t about availability but hospitals flouting rules, says govt

Seven teams of IAS and IPS officers have found that the city’s private hospitals were either not reserving 50% of beds for Covid cases as ordered by the state or hiding information.

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Bengaluru: Seven special teams set up by the Karnataka government to streamline Covid bed allocation in Bengaluru have found several discrepancies by private hospitals, including non-compliance in allocating 50 per cent of their beds to the government and allegedly falsifying data.

The Karnataka government had on 15 July made it mandatory for all hospitals, government and private, to display details of their bed allocation and update it on the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) dashboard. This was to make it easier for patients to identify where beds are available.

It further ordered 50 per cent of beds in private hospitals to be reserved for Covid-19 positive patients sent to them by the BBMP. The government would bear the costs for these patients.

‘Private hospitals flouting rules’

The seven special teams, comprising IPS and IAS officers, found several hospitals were either allegedly flouting the rules or hiding information.

These hospitals have been warned that if they do not fall in line, they could face legal action or lose their licenses.

As of Tuesday evening, Bengaluru has 4,849 Covid allocated beds in private hospitals spread across the city. Of these, 1,066 are occupied and 3,783 are available. Of the 2,710 beds available in private medical colleges, 1,782 are occupied and 928 are available for reservation.

The BBMP real time dashboard shows 741 beds allocated in government hospitals, of which 459 are occupied and only 282 beds are available for patients.

The government took note of the problem Sunday.

“It has come to knowledge of the government that certain private medical institutions are denying admission to such referred patients and self-reporting symptomatic patients, who are under distress, on some pretext or the other,” states an order signed by Chief Secretary T.M. Vijay Bhaskar Sunday night.

‘Lack of real-time data a challenge’

The special teams began their work Monday, and have since found that several private hospitals were refusing to admit patients referred by the BBMP or were not sharing accurate data of bed availability on the dashboard.

“They try to show the government they are fulfilling the promise of allocating beds,” said a senior officer who is part of the special team. “When it is cross-verified, it is found that those beds would have been occupied and sometimes the patients would be paying for it.”

Another issue that the teams identified was hospitals allegedly dodging bed allocation stating technical reasons.

Some allegedly claimed that they have beds but cannot provide an attendant attached to it.

“One of the biggest challenges that our investigations have shown is that private hospitals do not update their bed allocation status in real time,” said IPS officer D. Roopa, IGP (Railways), who is a member of the special team.

“If a hospital says there are 100 beds and over five days if all the beds are occupied, the hospital authorities do not update it on the BBMP system,” she added. “So when the BBMP sees their data, they think that more than 90 per cent is free and send 10 patients there. This is when patients are turned back and we hear cases of people not being admitted in private hospitals.”

Citing an example, Roopa said a hospital in Rajarajeshwarinagar on the fringes of Bengaluru city claimed that it had allocated all its beds to patients from the nearby district of Ramanagara.

“They have 700 beds and Ramanagara does not have that many patients that they have to dedicate the whole hospital to Covid-19 patients from there,” Roopa said. “When we went there, they told us they had now reserved 400 for Ramanagara and 300 for patients sent by BBMP. Hospitals are finding ways around the system.”

Also read: Unlock complacency, contact-tracing fatigue — more than one reason for Bengaluru’s spiral

‘Beds are available, will ensure centralised allocation’

The government is now looking to ensure that the private hospitals follow the rules.

“The main idea behind this operation is to reduce the mortality rate in Bengaluru. Beds are available, people do not know where and how to go about it,” Harishekharan, IGP (Training) told ThePrint. “Our job is to sensitise these hospitals and ask them to share beds whenever it is necessary.”

“There are too many reports of people being denied beds or treatment in hospitals. This is nothing but the high handedness of the private hospitals,” said a senior IPS officer on condition of anonymity. “In this war against a pandemic, we must come together and fight it, rather than try to find monetary benefit.”

“We will ensure that the government directions are implemented,” said Maheshwar Rao, Principal Secretary (labour). “There will be no discrimination between people as to who will be allocated beds. The teams will ensure centralised allocation.”

Govt sending mixed signals: Private hospitals

The private hospitals in the city, however, are arguing that the government is sending them mixed signals.   

Dr R. Ravindra, president of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA), told ThePrint that said that on the one hand, the government has asked private hospitals to hand over 50 per cent of their beds but on the other, it has said that if private doctors or staff fall ill, the hospitals themselves have to take care of them.   

He also claimed that the government has asked hospitals not to refuse any patient, whether Covid or non-Covid. “We are ready to give what the government asks for. Our biggest regret is that when you take away 50 per cent of the beds, there will be no more beds for patients,” he said. “If our staff are affected, who will take care of our patients? The government seems to be missing the big picture.” 

The PHANA president also rued that there is a lot of noise being made in the media that the hospitals are not providing beds. “The government asked us to provide 3,000 Covid beds, and we did. Many of the beds are occupied by patients who are ready to pay. The government cannot say that we should take care of the rich and they will take care of the poor patients,” he said. “We believe that all patients should be admitted uniformly through the Covid bed allocation portal without discrimination. We are fighting this together.” 

“We don’t know who the government is trying to please? Where is the infrastructure? Where are the nurses ? Government should help us take care of all,” he added. “It is wrong to blame the private sector for not cooperating. We are working the best we can. We are being maligned, we are demoralised and we think we are not being acknowledged for the good work we are doing … It feels like the government is coming after us with a vengeance.”

According to Dr. Ravindra, some 326 private hospitals in Bengaluru are members of PHANA.

Also read: ‘Only God can save us now’ — Karnataka health minister triggers row amid Covid surge


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