Anarchy reigns supreme in health sector    

Shamsul Huq Zahid     | Published: July 08, 2018 22:03:50 | Updated: July 09, 2018 21:56:29

Two and a half years old Raifa Khan died at Chattogram city's Max Hospital and Diagnostic Centre on June 29 under tragic circumstances. The parents of the victim alleged that their daughter died due to negligence and wrong treatment by attending doctors and nurses of the hospital in question.

A three-member probe body, headed by the civil surgeon of Chattogram, has found truth in the allegation. In its report, the probe body accused the doctors of being negligent while carrying out their duties and responsibilities. It also found that the doctors in question were lacking in both knowledge and experience to handle complex and serious cases.

Earlier, a committee constituted by the directorate of health services identified at least 11 types of irregularities and deficiencies of the Max Hospital that wears a posh look, outwardly.

The civil-surgeon-led committee that includes a journalist and a physician as members has recommended taking punitive actions against the doctors found responsible for committing the offence.

Appointment of two official probe bodies and punitive actions suggested by one of those do appear rather unusual. Never before, the ministry of health had been so prompt in arranging investigation into any alleged wrongdoing by doctors or health facilities.

Allegations of negligence on the part of hospitals, clinics and physicians are quite common these days. But the authorities do usually ignore those, for they are not interested in bothering physicians or owners of private hospitals.

Why is the government behaving differently this time?

It is because the father of Raifa is a journalist. The entire journalist community, while expressing solidarity with the victim's father, took to the street and demanded justice. Had Raifa been a daughter of a common man, nothing would have happened. The owner of the hospital would have managed everything. How things are managed in Bangladesh does not need any elaboration.

Very often aggrieved relations do resort to violence protesting deaths of patients due to alleged wrong treatment or negligence by doctors or other staff of hospitals or clinics.  But very rarely, probe bodies are formed. Doctors do enjoy upper hand as the Bangladesh Medical Association or doctors' organisations toeing political lines extend their support to them. These organisations support their members rather blindly.

Violence on the part of the aggrieved relatives of victimised patients cannot be supported. But lack of response from the authorities to allegation of negligence or wrong treatment also should not be condoned. The latest development is that all the private health facilities in the port city pulled their shutters down in protest against a raid at the Max Hospital and Diagnostic Centre by a mobile court. 

In such a situation, one particular organisation---the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BMDC) --- the watchdog body for the medical profession is supposed to play an effective role to punish the errand physicians. But unfortunately, it has until now emerged as a lame duck entity.

But why should anyone only blame the BMDC or other professional bodies of doctors? What is happening with the health sector regulator or organisations of the medical professionals is nothing unique. Other sectors are equally polluted. Regulatory control is virtually non-existent now and errant elements do rule the roost. The situation is equally bad in the case of the health directorate. Almost a free-for-all situation has been prevailing in the health sector for long.

The directorate is mandated to monitor and control the activities of both private and public health facilities. It does exercise some control over the public hospitals and clinics. But the private health facilities have been enjoying total freedom in almost all activities. These facilities are using the services of doctors and nurses the way they like. Quality and experience do matter little here.

Similarly, they charge fees and rents on the recipients of their services whimsically. The government has no control over such charges. The principles of free market economy, it seems, have been allowed to play their part in this sector.

In such a situation, the private health facilities are resorting to all sorts of foul play to cheat distressed service-seekers. This is evident from the involvement of at least two physicians in the wrong treatment of Raifa Khan at Max Hospital. The probe team employed by the health directorate has reportedly found that two of the three doctors accused of offering wrong treatment to Raifa had no valid letters of appointment issued by the Max authorities. Then how did they work in that hospital?

What has been revealed in the case of Max may not be anything extraordinary. It is widely suspected that similar irregularities or even worse are taking place in many other health facilities. In the absence of any monitoring and supervision, unscrupulous providers of health services are trying to reap the maximum financial gains providing the minimum or negative service to patients.

It is often alleged that the country's transport sector is in an anarchic state. The health sector is also not lagging behind. But the cost that anarchy in the heath sector exacts from the people is much too heavy. The common man should not be subjected to this kind of anarchy. There is need for the government to take steps towards improving the quality of service offered by doctors and health facilities both in private and public sectors.


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