While expensive medical treatment is a distant dream for the common man, the Non-Resident Indians are getting preferential treatment with several city hospitals offering them 10 to 15% discount under a special privilege card by the state government.
Considering the fact that the Punjabi diaspora has for long contributed to the state's development, the state government had launched the card this year, offering them several other sops, including discounts at shops, malls, hotels, restaurants and jewellery shops.
However, while the city hospitals continue to sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Punjab government for providing discount to NRIs, the common man has been left wanting.
Due to lack of facilities at government hospitals in the district, patients often face trouble getting required treatment, as they cannot afford the costly treatment at private hospitals. Several lives have also been lost in absence of services at government hospitals.
“A few days ago, a child in our neighbourhood fell seriously ill. The family took the patient to a nearby private hospital where Rs. 25,000 were demanded for treatment. When the family failed to afford the treatment, they took the child to civil hospital, where he died for want of timely treatment. If the family could have afforded the private hospital, the child's life could have been saved,” said former MLA Tarsem Jodhan.
“If the NRIs can afford airfare to visit India, they can afford costly treatment too. On the other hand, underprivileged people cannot even afford ambulances, then how can they pay for expensive treatment. The government should bring similar schemes for the common man too, so that precious lives could be saved. The government also needs to upgrade the government hospitals for easy accessibility to inexpensive medical services,” Jodhan said.
“We have for long been demanding a health security bill, which would ensure required treatment for every patient. The bill would ensure treatment for patients, who cannot afford costly treatment,” said Dr Arun Mitra, general secretary, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development.
Dr Kanwal Masih, medical superintendent at Christian Medical College and Hospital, said, “On the request of the state government, we are offering 10% concession to the NRIs. It was the state government's proposal to strengthen medical tourism in the state, as treatment here is cheaper than foreign countries.”
When contacted, assistant civil surgeon Dr KS Saini said, “A total of 55 hospitals in the district are providing up to 15% discounts to NRIs.”
Punjab health secretary Vini Mahajan could not be contacted despite several attempts.
On the other hand, though NRIs have welcomed the state government's step to provide discounts, they are disappointed over the high fee structure for medical courses.
Requesting anonymity, an NRI whose son is pursuing MBBS course at a city-based private college affiliated to Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, said, “While the fee for MBBS course for local students is around Rs. 10 lakh, it is $1 lakh (around Rs. 68 lakh) for NRI students. The discounts offered in treatment are appreciable, but the government should also reduce the fees for NRI seats in medical courses. On the one hand government is offering discount in treatment, on the other NRIs are being made to pay hefty fees for medical courses.”
Jasbir Singh Gill, president of NRI Sabha, “I welcome the step taken by the state government to offer discounts for medical treatment to NRIs. But, I will also talk to the minister concerned to reduce the fee structure in medical courses for NRIs.”
On being asked, he said the centre government should provide more funds to ensure proper treatment of needy patients.