The government has warned that private hospitals will not be allowed to turn away emergency patients. Moreover, if a private hospital wants to refer a patient to a Covid-19 dedicated hospital, it has to make sure that the dedicated hospital will accept the patient.
In default, the health ministry will revoke the licence of the private clinic and take other necessary action against them, said a circular on Monday signed by the health ministry's deputy secretary Mohammad Iqbal.
The circular was sent to the director general of the health directorate, all divisional directors of the directorate, private hospitals, the Clinic Owners Association and the Bangladesh Medical Association.
Most private medical facilities are turning away patients with other health issues amid the coronavirus outbreak. A number of such patients who were denied treatment by hospitals eventually succumbed to their ailments.
In the latest incident, an additional secretary to the food ministry, Gautam Aich Sarker, died on Thursday night. The government official was suffering from kidney disease, and was turned away by a number of private hospitals when he went there for admission.
Gautam's daughter Susmita Aich alleged that her father apparently died without treatment after he managed to get admitted to the Kurmitola General Hospital.
Additional Secretary to the health ministry Mohammad Habibur Rahman said the hospitals cannot turn away any critical or regular patient.
"Their licenses do not mean business only," Habibur told The Business Standard on Monday.
He said, "Their refusal is totally unacceptable when the nation needs medical care more than ever before. They will not be allowed to cash in on issues related to life and death."
Habibur Rahman was asked why it took so long to make such a decision. He said the decision was taken after several tripartite meetings among the ministry, Bangladesh Private Clinics and Diagnostics Owners Association and Bangladesh Private Medical College Owners Association.
"Though they [private medicals] assured us from the very beginning they would treat non-Covid patients, they violated the promise in several cases. Therefore, we issued the written instruction about revoking their medical license," he added.
The circular said that normal patients are facing a hassle in getting treatment at private hospitals since the detection of coronavirus in Bangladesh. On top of that, regular kidney dialysis patients are being refused treatments by their respective hospitals.
The circular mandates separate arrangements for Covid-19 suspected patients at all private hospitals. "Private clinics will not be allowed to deny treatment to any patient if they have the facility to treat the patient." it read.
The circular also said the private hospitals will have to ensure admission of a Covid-19 patient at the government hospital if they want to refer anyone. It said medical care of patients who are undergoing kidney treatment for a long time must continue if he or she is not tested positive to the virus.
Government hospitals have also been instructed not to refuse non-Covid patients, additional secretary to the health ministry, Habibur Rahman, told The Business Standard.
He said the government hospitals will place patients suspected of having coronavirus in their isolation unit and arrange a coronavirus test. They will refer Covid-19 positive cases to dedicated hospitals after informing the heath directorate.
Government hospitals will have to provide necessary treatment for patients that test negative to coronavirus.
The additional secretary said that if government hospitals do not obey the instruction as mentioned in the circular, the hospital directors will be brought to book.
However, Prof Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, believes that it would be tough for the government to force private hospitals to comply with the instructions in the circular.
He said the health ministry has requested the private hospital several times. Besides, the prime minister herself gave stern warnings to the hospital owners.
"But they did not heed the warnings," said Prof Nazrul. He opined the government now should get tough against those who are reluctant to follow the instructions.