The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) issued on May 25 last a directive for closure of all unregistered private hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres within 72 hours. About the merit of the move there is no doubt. Health facilities in the private sector in numerous cases are no more than misnomers. Some are simply deception incarnate. There were chilling reports that quite a few such health facilities including those for mental health were run by fraudsters posing to be experienced health consultants with emphatic foreign degrees to their credits. The exposure of Shahed Karim has brought to the fore how the medical malpractice has been taken to its limit of a black art.
So the move to get all private health facilities registered could not be more justified. But the troubling question is its timeframe. Only 72 hours and that include a weekly holiday! This turns the entire exercise almost into a farce, because a Bangla contemporary has reported that civil surgeons even do not have lists of unregistered health facilities in many districts. In fact, the irregularities and malpractices in the sector have remained endemic for decades and the authorities have always cited an inadequate manpower for not launching a campaign against illegal private hospitals and other such health facilities. Now the authorities have given only 72 hours minus 24 hours on account of the weekly holiday to accomplish the task. One would not believe that the strength of the implementing authorities has suddenly gone up many times over or they have each got a magic wand to complete the task.
A half-way-house approach only proves counterproductive. In the absence of adequate enforcement staff and required tools, how those directed to execute the order at the field level will report to the directorate is anybody's guess. Meanwhile it may open up an illegal avenue for underhand deals which have actually been responsible for allowing the unregistered and fake health facilities to continue operation so far. If the objective is to bring order in the private health facilities, why has the directorate allowed 5,000 plus unregistered medical facilities to operate since 2018?
Then, registration is no guarantee that the hospitals/clinics and diagnostic centres have the required staff, medical apparatus and the minimum space and environment expected of such facilities. When people of administration carry out caesarean or surgical operations in a hospital instead of referring to a well-equipped government hospital, the naivety and commercial mentality get shamelessly exposed. Then a psychiatrist patient, also a police officer, is subjected to such physical beating and battering at a so-called mental clinic immediately after admission that the assault leaves him dead.
With all such instances before the DGHS, how has it responded to the crisis? Its response has been no more than reactive to such incidents whenever they occurred. But the response should have been proactive and comprehensive requiring it to keep its antenna up and swoop on any facility engaged in unapproved and criminal health practices.
Seventy-two hours or a week or even a fortnight were not enough for the purpose. Given the limited manpower, the directorate could select areas where a heavy presence of its enforcement teams could literally carry out what may be called a combing operation. If found at variance with the declared requirements they had at the time of applying for registrations, their licence should have been revoked and the facilities sealed off. Apart from such a special campaign, monitoring such businesses should be a continuous process. In a country where there is an instance of a man doing the illegal clinic business three times ---the last two times on coming out from jail, vigilance is the price of discipline in the private health sector.