Delhi’s list of essential drugs — comprising tablets, injections, syrups, drops and ointments given free of cost at all government dispensaries, clinics and hospitals — names 1,390 medicines, nearly four times the National List of Essential Medicines which has 376 medicines.
Almost all the medicines in the list are available for free at government pharmacies and doctors only prescribe medicines from the expanded drug list so that patients do not have to go to private chemists. However, patients have to queue up for several hours to get even basic medicines.
“I came to the hospital at 7am and waited for two hours to meet the doctor. Since then, I have been standing in the queue for cough and fever medicines and it’s 1.30pm now. I still have fever and I can’t wait any longer. I have no choice but to buy it from a chemist,” said Kusum Kumari at the Lok Nayak Hospital pharmacy.
“My mother has a heart condition and needs regular medication. We pick up medicines every 15 days when we bring her for a check-up and end up spending the whole day at the hospital to get the medicines. My sister stands in the queue while I take my mother to the OPD, and when I’m done, I stand in the line,” said Roshanara Khatun, 47, who goes to the clinic in Tahirpur.
Adding to the delay are touts lurking around medicine counters offering free medicines for a small price. Standing in a queue at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital pharmacy, a woman who did not want to be named said, “I get my asthma medicines here each month. There are three-four boys here, who get you the medicines in 15 minutes for Rs 100-300, depending on the price of medicines.”
“Paying the touts for free medicine is still cheaper than the commercial price,” she said.
There are many who can’t afford to pay touts. “The queue takes hours as people with access get medicines from the other side of the counter. If we have to pay the touts, then what is the point of free medicines? Besides, I do not really have the money to pay,” said Mohammed Alam, 67, who had come to collect his blood pressure medication to GTB hospital.
To ensure there’s no shortage, Delhi government has asked hospitals maintain a stock of three months for commonly-used medicines and has given medical superintendents the power to buy medicines in small quantities when there’s an unexpected shortage.