New Delhi: Five years ago, no one had heard of a mohalla clinic. But the idea of neighbourhood health centres has been a hit among Delhiites, especially the poor, who earlier postpone all doctor visits unless the illnesses was really serious, both to save money and the time spent in overcrowded government hospitals.
“When my wife fell ill recently, I went to the mohalla clinic operating from the house next door,” revealed Sanjay Kumar in east Delhi’s Vinod Nagar. “The doctor examined her and prescribed medicines for free. I would have had to pay a private doctor Rs 150.” Kumar, who came to Delhi two decades ago from Rae Bareli in UP, is a Congress party supporter. Saying he hadn’t decided who to vote for in the assembly elections, Kumar did express happiness, however, at Delhi government’s success in boosting primary healthcare by introducing mohalla clinics.
When Aam Aadmi Party came to power in Delhi for the second time in 2015, it promised to build 1,000 mohalla clinics across the state. However, only 450 such clinics have become operational. “There is no mohalla clinic in our area. We have only been hearing about its benefits,” said Rinki Yadav in south Delhi’s Sanwal Nagar. BJP and Congress have regularly alleged corruption and deficiencies in the running of the clinics, but it hasn’t dented the popularity of these convenient healthcare stations.
It isn’t surprising then that AAP hopes the clinics will garner it support during the polls. More than half of them are run from rented premises instead of portacabins, as envisaged in the original plan when the first clinic was inaugurated in west Delhi’s Peeragarhi in July 2015. “The plan to build more mohalla clinics was delayed by unavailability of land and the obstructions created by the BJP-majority municipal corporations,” alleged an AAP functionary.
But the opposition parties point out that the AAP government failed to improve tertiary care in the capital. A report by a BJP think-tank, released last week, claimed that Delhi government had added only 394 beds in state-run hospitals instead of the 30,000 beds it had promised during the 2015 assembly polls campaign. Public Policy Research Centre also said the AAP government had been pulled up numerous times by Delhi high court for its inability to meet the city’s growing healthcare demands.
A recent inquiry conducted by a high court-appointed expert panel on the functioning of state government-run hospitals revealed that most had long waiting lists for major procedures, while those located on the city’s periphery lacked basic equipment and staff. The 250-page report said some of these centres were forced to shut emergency services after 4pm and three peripheral hospitals were cited as referring the patients requiring emergency services to a “bigger centre” after that.
The report also noted that most public hospitals struggled with staff shortage and key equipment. At Lok Nayak Hospital, one of the largest public health facilities in the capital, there were less than half the stipulated staff in the obstetrics and gynaecology department at night. Even a sanitation employee wasn’t on duty though almost half of all deliveries takes place at night, the panel said.
Government officials claimed to be working to improve things. “We have started a helpline that patients can call to complain about any deficiency,” said one of them. “Also, we have ensured availability of free medicines and we are working overtime to expand the health infrastructure by constructing new hospitals and adding more beds to the existing ones.”
The official added, “The Indira Gandhi Hospital in Dwarka, which will be the largest in southwest Delhi with 1,241 beds, the 600-bed facility at Ambedkar Nagar in south Delhi and a 772-bed hospital in Burari, northwest Delhi, are likely to become functional in three months.”
Since few Delhi state-run hospitals have MRI and CT scan facilities, the government introduced a scheme two years ago to allow patients referred by select hospitals to have such tests done in empanelled private diagnostic centres. Similarly, if the waitlist for surgery was too long, patients could avail of treatment at select private hospitals. “More than 17 lakh people have benefited from the scheme, while over 1,000 people have undergone free surgery in private hospitals,” a government official said.
Critics, however, observe that outsourcing key services and surgeries to private establishments may not be a good idea. “The money spent annually by the government in getting MRIs done outside its hospitals, for example, can instead buy required machines. Only two-three Delhi government hospitals have MRI facility, and in Lok Nayak Hospital, the waiting time for a scan is two years,” said a doctor.-Times Of India