Unpredictable costs, lack of infrastructure, inefficiency, and gross mismanagement — these are some ways to describe the current healthcare system in Kolkata. And not just that, the city seems to be at the top of some of the most recent medical controversies. Cases of medical negligence and expired medicine scam and fake doctors’ racket have been hitting the headlines off late with alarming monstrosity. Kolkata’s healthcare infrastructure needs a massive upgrade to be truly responsive to the citizens’ need.
Providing affordable healthcare, especially in a city like Kolkata, is a challenging affair because of the phenomenally high density of population in and around the city. There’s an evident gap between the rising demand for proper healthcare facilities and the supply offered by the government.
Kolkata’s Healthcare Infrastructure Needs a Lift
There are in total nine medical colleges and hospitals (MCH) including the Calcutta Medical College, S.S.K.M Medical College, R.G. Kar Medical College, and N.R.S Medical College. Operating under the state government, these large MCHs aim to facilitate affordable healthcare services and have experienced doctors, the required support system, and are well-equipped. But the wait time for patients in such state-run facilities is abnormally high.
A survey revealed that the average waiting time is between one to four hours in the city’s top medical colleges and hospitals. This can be fatal for patients suffering from critical illness who require immediate attention. During the survey, both patients and the relatives accompanying them complained that they had to stand in a queue for two to three hours every day for at least two consecutive days just to meet a doctor for a preliminary diagnosis.
The extremely high footfall in the city’s public hospitals can be attributed to the lack of adequate infrastructure in the other parts of the state, particularly the rural areas. Non-availability of equipment and trained medical professionals are principal issues in most of the medical facilities in remote areas. This practically forces the rural health centres to refer a huge number of patients to hospitals in Kolkata, which leads to an excessive inflow of patients in the city’s public dispensaries.
Most people within the city limits, as well as from rural regions, prefer the state-run hospitals because of the prevalent cost disparity between private and public healthcare facilities in the city. It has been seen that the costs for a regular blood test in a private healthcare institute is nearly 79 percent higher than a public hospital. Likewise, the expenses that have to be incurred to perform a digital X-ray is almost 73 percent more in a private nursing home as compared to a public hospital. The disparity in costs between the public and private medical facilities usually widens for other critical illness.
Increasing Medical Costs and Lack of Proper Infrastructure are Driving Patients Away From the City to Other States
People from Kolkata, as well as from Bengal, are practically forced to flock in hospitals in other parts of the country due to the dismaying condition of public health care back home. Anyone who has tried for a ticket in Yeshwantpur Express or Chennai Mail will know it for sure. These trains are packed with patients in large numbers going for medical treatment in Chennai, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, and CMC Vellore.
Vellore, over the last few decades, has established itself as a dependable place for affordable healthcare in the minds of Calcutta citizens. This has turned into a norm for complicated cases like cancer, heart, brain, and other neurological issues. Most of the people who choose Chennai and Vellore are scared of wrong treatment in Kolkata’s private hospitals. Not to mention the abnormally high charges that these patients have to pay. Lack of proper infrastructure and inexperienced healthcare professionals are also major concerns of the people.
A Ray of Hope
Recently, the state government of West Bengal has proposed a healthcare bill that will make all private healthcare facilities in Bengal accountable. The soon-to-be implemented law will review costs related to ICU, ventilation, implants, surgeries, and bed charges. Issues like over billing and refusing accident victims will be also taken into account in the new bill. From now on, holding on to dead bodies over non-payment will be treated as a crime, which can lead to an imprisonment of three years.
The new law will hopefully bring positive changes that will make the city’s healthcare sector more accessible, affordable and transparent.