In some good news for the people of Karnataka and those who are against the public-private partnership (PPP) of district hospitals, the newly-inducted Health Minister of Karnataka Dinesh Gundu Rao has expressed his firm opposition to the PPP model in healthcare.
In an exclusive interview to South First, he said: “I am not in favour of the PPP model for government hospitals. No PHC (primary health centre), district hospital, or government hospital must be given for PPP. Instead, we must be strengthening them. Make them more accountable.”
The previous government’s plan
The previous BJP government had decided to allot land to private firms for the construction of 11 new medical colleges in 11 districts of Karnataka under the PPP model.
The new medical colleges were to be attached to district hospitals in Tumakuru, Davanagere, Chitradurga, Bagalkote, Kolar, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Bengaluru Rural, Vijayapura, Vijayanagara, and Ramanagara.
However, Gundu Rao, who assumed office with great enthusiasm, said, “I don’t think we should be giving out district hospitals on the PPP model. Ultimately, it is our premises, our doctors, our nurses, our staff… I don’t want to encourage PPP. We should strengthen our own department, especially PHCs, district hospitals, etc. It should be under the government’s ambit,” he stressed.
‘Emergency services need urgent attention’
Assuming the responsibility of overseeing the well-being of the entire population of Karnataka, Dinesh Gundu Rao highlighted the high public interface of his portfolio, acknowledging the immense task that lies ahead.
Discussing his priorities, he said that there are numerous unresolved issues in the state that demand urgent attention. Among these concerns are the dysfunction of emergency services, such as the widely used 108 ambulance services, 104 helpline, and the need for improved efficiency in the functioning of hospitals throughout the state.
“There are many issues that have been unaddressed for a long time. 108 is almost becoming dysfunctional, 104 call centres are not working. We need to improve the way our hospitals are functioning. There is an urgent need to improve our efficiency. Shuchi scheme — where we supply sanitary napkins to girl children in schools — has to be implemented fast,” he said.
‘Need to investigate Covid-19 oxygen-related deaths’
Highlighting another priority on his list, the visibly-irked minister talked about the uninvestigated deaths that occurred at Chamarajanagar district hospital due to oxygen shortage during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said that the previous government has only passed the buck from department to department and has not even decided on who should investigate the deaths. “I have asked the Health Department and concerned officials to provide a detailed report in this regard. Investigation into this has to begin on priority,” Gundu Rao said.
On 2 and 3 May, 2021, 24 Covid-19 patients, who were being treated at Chamarajanagar district hospital, died due to lack of oxygen. A report submitted by a committee consisting of two retired judges of the Karnataka High Court, stated that the shortage of oxygen occurred due to failure of the district administration, in general, and the hospital authorities, in particular. However, no further investigation was conducted.
Meanwhile, in an effort to rectify the flaws inherited from the previous government, Gundu Rao has already initiated a review process. He said that he has requested the department to submit reports, particularly regarding procurement and purchases made during the Covid-19 period.
The minister expressed his determination to address any shortcomings and to enhance transparency and accountability within the healthcare system.
On shortage of medical manpower
Acknowledging that there is a shortage of staff in almost all areas, he blamed the previous government for providing infrastructure but no manpower.
He said that, on priority, the government will start ensuring — phase-wise — adequate staffing within the healthcare system. He promised to try and fill all existing vacancies over the next few years.
“Infrastructure and equipment alone are of limited value without a sufficient number of trained healthcare professionals to operate them effectively. Filling up vacancies was our top priority in the manifesto too — not just in the health sector, but in other sectors too. It will soon be done,” he assured.
On dialysis centres and scam allegations
When asked to comment about the condition of state-run dialysis centres, the minister said that he has already begun the process of finalising the tender process. He said that he is aware that patients requiring dialysis are struggling and that some of equipment has been deemed dysfunctional.
“The issue of dialysis centres has been on my priority list for a while. We will ensure that all lacunae are filled on priority basis. The tenders will also be finalised soon. All these decisions will be taken within a month,” he said.
He stressed that the government cannot afford to postpone decisions that directly impact the well-being of citizens.
Dinesh Gundu Rao’s commitment to accessible and affordable healthcare was evident throughout the interview. He acknowledged the current lack of availability of certain medicines and identified the need to streamline the procurement process.
“I agree that some of the other states, like Tamil Nadu, have an easy way to procure medicines. The problem is with the procurement process. We will soon streamline this. We will ensure medicines are available and that they reach the needy,” he added.
Of course, Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao did not miss the opportunity the chastise the BJP government on allegations of corruption. He said that the now-ruling Congress party had made a series of allegations of corruption against the previous health minister and highlighted how corruption had seeped into government hospitals at the every level.
He said, “It is very unfortunate that the ministry, which is meant to serve the poor, was siphoning off the money meant for the poor. We have to combat that. It will be a challenge, but I will do my best to see that corruption is reduced, leakages become less,” he stated.
Meanwhile, assuring that the five guarantees promised by the Congress government in their manifesto will be implemented, he said, ”The only guarantee that we will give is that all the guarantees promised will be implemented. We have already analysed the pros and cons of each of the guarantees. We will be discussing the finances and the decision will be taken in the next Cabinet meeting.”