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Is Free Healthcare Really Free At GMCH?



GUWAHATI: The Gauhati Medical College & Hospital (GMCH) claims to have the best of doctors. The Assam Government has spent a huge amount of money to make the hospital enable to deliver the best & affordable healthcare service. People come from different parts of the State to the hospital with a hope to get their ailments cured.

But the million dollar question is whether the GMCH has been able to come up to its expectations at a time when Dispur going overboard by claiming that the hospital will be even better than the AIIMS in the years to come.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has announced multiple free healthcare schemes in the recent years and claimed that even the poorest of the poor can access to quality healthcare in government hospitals. But patients and their relatives visiting the GMCH could realize the mockery and irony of the so-called free healthcare schemes. Right from syringe, injection, bandage to medicines patient have to purchase everything at their own cost to ensure their treatment at GMCH.

“My son is undergoing treatment at an ICU since a week. I have so far purchased medicines nearly Rs 50,000. Medicines prescribed by doctors are not available at the central pharmacy of GMCH. Few medicines I am purchasing at discounted rates from Amrit pharmacy at the hospital. Even though Amrit pharmacies are supposed to sell generic drugs at very cheap prices, the same pharmacy at GMCH are selling all costly branded medicines. I am purchasing most of the medicines from private pharmacies situated outside GMCH,” Babul Bora (name changed) alleged.

Bora said he could have saved huge amount money in case the Amrit pharmacy at GMCH sells all generic medicines.

 Babul Bora is not alone. Majority of those visiting different departments at GMCH for treatment are airing similar grievances.

“Nothing is free here. We have to purchase everything. All surgical kits have to be purchased before a surgery is conducted in any department. At a time when the government is trying to promote institutional deliveries, pregnant women have to spend a good amount of money at the gynecology department to give birth to their babies,” Haidor Ali (name changed) whose wife recently delivered a baby boy, alleged. Ali alleged that he has heard that a section of doctors of GMCH has an understanding with private pharmacies and thus prescribe those medicines which available only in those pharmacies.

Patients have many other grievances. “The government has created modern infrastructures, facilities and installed equipments at GMCH in the recent years. But despite creating facilities such as modern operation theaters nothing much has improved when it comes to treatment and behavior of a section of doctors. Junior doctors and PG students are engaged to see majority of patients. I am undergoing treatment at GMCH for past four days and not a single senior & experienced doctor has so far come to see me,” Sangeeta Haloi(name changed) said.

Haloi alleged doctor-patient relationship is not at all healthy and many doctors refuse to give immediate attention when critical patients are admitted to GMCH. “In many cases some doctors refuse to give a glance even when a patient cries and shouts in pain,” she said.

On other hand in the last three to four years, the GMCH had to turn away more than 3,000 critical patients due to lack of ICU beds. The hospital has around 90 ICU beds. Some of the important departments such as cardiology, neurology and medicine have a very few number of ICU beds. The hospital does not have any ICU facility for geriatric patients. As the ICU beds in the GMCH are overstretched, the critically-ill patients have no option but to opt for private hospitals for intensive care treatment by spending a huge amount of money. Moreover, the GMCH face the pressure from ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats and politicians to allot ICU beds to their close and dear ones.

According to official figures 43,463 patients died in the hospital from 2011 to 2017. The highest number of patients died in the hospital – 7518 – in 2017. This, when computed, comes to over 20.5 daily on an average.

But all have not gone wrong in GMCH.

In the last few years the GMCH has become one of the cleanest public hospitals. Cleanliness drive is being carried out round the clock. Bathrooms and toilets are being cleaned at a very short interval. Cleanliness has reduced the cases of hospital infection.

Security at GMCH has been strengthened to ensure safety of patients as well doctors. The Bhangagarh police station situated near the hospital is active to drive away anti-social elements from GMCH premises.

Most importantly the GMCH has a superintendent who is very responsive to patients’ grievances. Superintendent Ramen Talukdar takes calls even in dead hours of the night to address grievances of patients and their relatives.

“I am trying my level best to address patients’ grievances. My office remains open round the clock and I welcome everyone to lodge complaints. I always welcome constructive criticism because that only makes my hospital to serve patients better,” Talukdar said.

Regarding medicine crisis Talukdar said the central pharmacy in the hospital has all essential drugs as per the government list of medicines. He, however, said his office has received complaints against Amrit pharmacy.

Thousands of patients visit GMCH everyday for treatment at OPD and emergency department. The hospital has over 2500 indoor patients. “Considering huge rush of patients some doctors may not be able to give ample time to treatment of patients. But that does not imply that doctors are rude and insensitive to patients,” Talukdar said.

To conclude Dispur to come to the ground and find solution to problems plaguing the GMCH, the largest public sector hospital in the North East.


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