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Swasthya Sathi: Banerjee hits out at private hospitals

21105789 - kolkata - february 20: indian railways minister ms. mamata banerjee looking at the audience while giving her speech during a political rally in kolkata, india on february 20, 2011.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has criticised private hospitals over failure to treat patients covered under Swasthya Sathi. Image credit: Arindam Banerjee / 123rf

Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has hit out at private hospitals for obstructing the state’s healthcare scheme Swasthya Sathi, allegedly refusing to provide treatment to eligible beneficiaries. 

Banerjee, who holds the portfolio of Health and Family Welfare in the state cabinet as the Chief Ministership, launched Swasthya Sathi on December 30th, 2016. Swathya Sathi is a cashless, paperless and smartcard-based scheme covering pre-existing conditions which provides health coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year. The scheme rolled out from February 2017. According to Vikaspedia, fifty lakh families covering approximately 2.5 crore people are covered across all of West Bengal’s districts.

However, the role of the private sector in administering Swasthya Sathi has ignited controversy due to reports of individuals carrying Swasthya Sathi being denied treatment. According to one district magistrate, he had received 3,285 complaints about being refused treatment at hospitals. 

Banerjee has taken a hard line against violators. “The state government is paying money to the hospitals to treat patients enrolled under the scheme,” she said. “They are not doing it for free. We have spent Rs 1,200 crore for the scheme. This should not be allowed.” 

Banerjee went so far as to pledge legal action if they are found to have engaged in this practice. “Some private hospitals in the state are denying admission to patients the moment they find out that the patients are covered under the Swasthya Sathi scheme,” the Chief Minister said. “In such cases, go to the local police station immediately and lodge a complaint. I will ask the police to share the information with the district magistrate, who should report it to the [chief medical officer of health].” Banerjee added that “the government may also cancel the hospital’s licence, if necessary.” 

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