CHENNAI: Two weeks after an audio clip of Dr Basker Reddy and his team trying to strike a bargain with 108 ambulance drivers surfaced, the Tamil Nadu government has initiated disciplinary action against Global hospitals, Perumbakkam, Chennai. The hospital has now been temporarily excluded from the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme. Ten temporary contract drivers have been dismissed and nine other permanent drivers have been suspended in connection with the case.
In the audio clip, the team of doctors can be heard negotiating with the ambulance drivers, coercing them to bring all accident victims as well as other patients along the GST, ECR and OMR roads to their hospital. The ambulance drivers would be paid a certain amount based on whether the patient is being admitted to the inpatient or outpatient ward among the other criteria. The present rule mandates the ambulances to take the victims to the nearest government hospital, though an exception is made in cases where a private hospital is nearer to the spot when compared to the nearest government hospital.
Though a source within the health department confirmed the news, doctors at Global hospital said that they were not aware of any disciplinary action. “We had no idea that the CM's Health insurance scheme had been revoked. We performed surgeries under the scheme even last week,” said a doctor from Global hospital. " Furthermore, legal action should be taken against the doctors found guilty in the investigation rather than scrapping the entire scheme. Until now, we have treated 40 underprivileged children under the government insurance scheme. Sabotaging a scheme which has been hugely beneficial will only have implications on the public.", he said commenting on the disciplinary measure.
Dr Shanthi, state secretary, Doctor’s Association for Social Equality, believes that more than any disciplinary action, a change of attitude from the government's side is the need of the hour. She opines that such scams occur because the 108 ambulances are presently being operated under a public-private partnership with GVK-EMRI. Elaborating on this she said, “Ninety-five per cent of the funds needed for ambulance services is contributed by the state government and the remaining by EMRI(Emergency Management and Research Institute). However, the services are being fully operated by EMRI officials. If this responsibility lies with the government such things wouldn't happen and there would be better transparency”.
Further, the noble motive of such services is being hampered by the money-minting mentality of the private firms, she added." The ambulance drivers work for 12 hours a day. If the next driver doesn't show up to work that day, the person in the earlier shift is made to work a double shift. Considering the nature of the job, if the driver is tired and over-worked, the patient's safety will be in threat", she notes. Citing a recent incident where both the ambulance driver and the patient were killed in a grave accident possibly due to a lax in the working condition of the ambulance, particularly brake failure she explains," We have received numerous complaints regarding improper maintenance of the ambulances. Further, the private agency now wants to save funds by cutting down the diesel consumption of these vehicles. For this, the drivers are being instructed not to go beyond a certain speed limit ( about 70 km/hr) ."
Notably, the day before the ambulance driver and the patient were killed in an accident in Kanchipuram, 108 ambulance drivers from Madurai had boycotted work citing poor maintenance of the ambulances.
Meanwhile several ambulance drivers have also raised concerns regarding the working condition of the vehicles. They also alleged that the service centres are not ready to repair their ambulances as they do not receive timely payment from the EMRI....