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City healthcare going north

JUST ON the strength of its government hospitals, the city may not rank high in healthcare facilities, but a parallel revolution in the private sector has certainly made Lucknow one of the most-sought-after medical destinations.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2006 01:26 IST

JUST ON the strength of its government hospitals, the city may not rank high in healthcare facilities, but a parallel revolution in the private sector has certainly made Lucknow one of the most-sought-after medical destinations.

From simple cataract operations to complicated heart surgeries, doctors have developed organ-specific expertise and experimental science is at its peak. The city now boasts of a ‘super-specialty hospital’ and more are to follow. Similarly, medical institutes are also coming up in the private sector.

In the past decade, the city has witnessed an investment of over Rs 300 crore in the private healthcare sector. Experts say it’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s more to follow.

For its pool of medical experts, the city primarily depends on the SGPGIMS, King George’s Medical University (KGMU), Homoeopathic and the Ayurvedic colleges. The latest addition to the list is the King George’s Dental University (KGDU). KGDU is also the first and only dental varsity in the country.

As for healthcare, a dozen government hospitals and over 100 registered private nursing homes/ hospitals provide medical facilities to over 40,00,000 Lucknowites and those coming from nearby states and countries.

In 1987 the city got the SGPGIMS and healthcare began to tread a new path. It became the first-of-its-kind institute in India to house departments like medical genetics, surgical endocrinology, transfusion medicine, clinical immunology and critical care medicine.

Slowly but steadily the city evolved into a hub for investors as well. From mere 10 hospitals/ nursing homes in 1990, the figure today is 150. Now, even non-clinical persons head hospitals and run it in ‘corporate’ style.

Despite all this, the city is yet to make its place on the medical tourism map. But the trickle has begun. Patients are arriving here from outside UP and the country to get treatment at the SGPGIMS and the KGMU.

One fourth of the total patients at the SGPGIMS are from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. KGMU too shares a major load of patients from Nepal. They find it more economical to visit Lucknow than rush to New Delhi.

Take the case of Pakistani national Arif Mohammad. Faislabad resident Arif came for treatment at the Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi. From there he was referred to the PGI. Here he underwent corrective surgery (Precutaneous Bilary Stenting) for the failure of live donor liver transplant.

What could not be done in Delhi, the city did.

Prof Mahendra Bhandari, KGMU vice-chancellor, said, “If we provide quality service at a lower cost more people will come here. This will automatically promote health tourism. The challenge for us is to develop those state-of-the-art specialties and facilities.”

Not just clinical expertise but indigenous modification of technology by city doctors has brought international quality facility at the cheapest possible rate.
The latest example of it was the intra-operative neuro-navigation by MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) at the Nova Hospital.

The surgery required upgraded and costly version of the MRI equipment, which meant additional cost for the patient. But a small modification of an old MRI machine helped to adopt the technique for free.

“It’s boom time for the health sector here. The city is moving from being the hub of multi-specialty hospitals to super-specialty hospitals,” said president of Lucknow College of Surgeons Dr KD Verma.

The opening of the Divine Heart Hospital and Research Centre for total heart care exemplifies this change.

But the change is not sudden but gradual. Most of the nursing homes and hospitals are gradually adding testing laboratories, X-Ray and CT Scan units to make the process of diagnosis easy. In fact, the city has the rare facility of separating blood components.

“SGPGIMS sparked the change. The persistent threat of reduction in patient inflow made private players improve standards of healthcare in the city. SGPGI raised the bar and others had to follow. By 1995, SGPGI had become standard of healthcare in UP,” said Prof Gourdas Choudhuri of the Gastroenterology Department of SGPGI.

With standards raised even government hospitals are trying to match its competitions. The Balrampur Hospital is finalizing the proposal to start the Diplomat National Board course and an ultra-modern pathology lab, while the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital will soon boast of a super-specialty institute.

“We will be the first among government hospitals to have MRI facility. Plans for introducing other such modern facilities are also afoot,” said the chief medical superintendent of the RML Hospital Dr AK Chawla.

The city also has UP’s first Trauma Centre at the KGMU. It works on the integrated trauma care concept rather than as an isolated trauma hospital. Construction of a state-of-the art Centenary Hospital is underway, to usher in the best in the clinical world.

It’s not just the infrastructure and equipment that has made the reach new heights in patient care but doctors also matters.

Dr Nirmal Gupta left his eleven-year-old job and a promising career in the UK to join SGPGIMS in 1999. Despite lack of infrastructure he continues to be the only cardiac surgeon who deals with paediatric patients in the entire State.

“I had pledged not to return to India as the people here were not mature. But a small trip to the city and SGPGI in 1999 changed my thought pattern. It made me understand that this was the land where the opportunity to serve and not earn existed,” Dr Gupta reasoned.

Another cause for Lucknow developing as a major health player is the scattered enterprise in Kanpur. “Though Kanpur is a bigger economic centre but it doesn’t cater to patients who want multiple specialty under one roof,” Prof Choudhuri said.

Dr AK Srivastava, founder of the Divine Heart Hospital and Research Centre, said, “Lucknow is well connected to air, rail and road routes. The State capital is full of potential and not like Delhi, where the market is already saturated.”

That the city’s healthcare system has undergone change is evident from several patients preferring to get treated here rather than head towards the south or New Delhi.

When major healthcare players like Fortis and Max join the race in a year or two, the city’s medical industry will complete the full circle.

First Published: Apr 23, 2006 01:26 IST