They are taking advantage of lack of transparency in private quota, say officials
Uday Kumar, a resident of Rajajinagar, was desperately trying to find an ICU bed for his friend who was suffering from COVID-19. He got the same answer from every private hospital he called: “There are no ICU beds available at this moment.”
As his search for a bed grew more frantic, someone sent him a number that was doing the rounds on social media. “When I called up the number, a man picked up the phone and assured me of bed and even an ambulance to pick my friend from his house. He wanted ₹25,000 for the service. I was willing to pay, but ultimately did not take it, as we finally got an ICU bed through the system,” he said.
Uday’s recent experience is not unusual. Many people in their hunt for oxygenated or ICU beds — a commodity that is proving to be as rare as oxygen supply — are encountering touts, who are successfully taking care of hospitalisation for them at exorbitant rates.
Dr. H. M. Prasanna, President, Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes’ Association (PHANA), acknowledged the problem and said he had received similar complaints from the Jigani area in Bengaluru Rural district where touts were charging ₹5,000 to find a bed.
While beds under the government quota are almost full, there is no transparency in the private quota, and touts are taking advantage of the situation. Officials acknowledge that a centralised database of bed availability in the private sector is one way to put an end to middlemen cashing in on a grim situation. PHANA is set to roll out such a database in the next few days.
But touts may even be blocking beds, jeopardising parity of bed availability in the city, say industry insiders. “They seem to have blocked some beds in certain private hospitals, mostly the smaller ones that are not well-known. The involvement of staff working at such hospitals cannot be ruled out,” said a senior doctor who did not wish to be named.
The State government has accused private hospitals of not giving the assigned 50% of the beds to government quota. “While at the peak of the pandemic last year, they had given 4,500 beds to the government. This year, to date, they have handed over only 3,500 beds,” said Health Minister Dr. K. Sudhakar on Monday. The government has now ordered 75% of the beds to be brought under the government quota.
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