By Tapan K Padhi
Now that Health minister Dr. Damodar Rout is back from hospital (May God give him a long and healthy life) and is back at his carping best, issuing statements to the media on every conceivable issue, it would perhaps not be blasphemy to ask the one question that everyone wanted to ask when he was hospitalized but held back because it would have been in bad taste: why did the Health minister choose to get himself admitted to Apollo Hospital and not the Capital Hospital or the SCB Medical College Hospital for treatment of his chest pain ?
What message did this give to the people of the state about the state of health services in the leading government hospitals, which are directly under his watch?
Of course, it goes without saying that as an individual, Dr. Rout is entitled to get the best medical attention available in the state or even outside. But the catch is: he is not just any private individual, but the Health minister of the state. He is the boss of the Health department in Odisha and is responsible for the present state of the health services in the state.
That is why he should have taken this as an opportunity to put the health services of the state to a litmus test. By getting admitted to a government hospital, he certainly would not have undergone the trials and tribulations of a common citizen, as he himself is not a common citizen (aam aadmi-mango people). But, he certainly would have been in a better situation to interpolate, extrapolate, speculate, hypothesize and contemplate on the kind of treatment that the common citizens are getting. That would have perhaps helped him bring in changes in the system after he got back to his office.
It certainly was a missed chance for the citizens of Odisha. But, the consolation is (and we people are always good at finding one for ourselves) during illnesses like chest pain, it might not have been possible on his part to think about all this. It is also possible that the decision to admit him to Apollo was taken by someone on his behalf and not himself.
But there is no denying the fact that (you always find people who have a differing view) the Health minister of the state getting admitted into a private hospital sent a wrong signal to the people in the state. First, it suggested that the government facilities are simply not good enough. If the Health minister himself does not have trust in the system that he is in charge of, how can he possibly expect the common man to trust it? Is it that the life and health problems of the common people have lesser value than that of the minister?
And there is always another dimension to any argument. A man associated with private health care facilities in the city expressed his irritation thus. “What exactly was the Health minister trying to prove? That Apollo is the only place? That it is the best place? In the process, has he not promoted a particular hospital? After all, as the Health minister, it is his job to provide a level playing field to all.”
Some comments made on the streets of the capital city were even more uncharitable. Raising his head from the newspaper, a gutkha chewing person at a roadside tea stall gave this pearl of wisdom, tongue firmly in cheek, to the persons discussing Dama Babu’s health.“Dama Babu has done the right thing by going to Apollo Hospital. He has gone there to check the ICU and other facilities and the quality of treatment on offer there. Have not you read that the government of Odisha has entered into an agreement with this hospital for training the district headquarters hospitals on ICU management?”
Another vignette from the animated street corner discussion on the issue went something like this. “No, this is simply not on. The minister should have tried the government health care facility,” said a man shaking his head vigorously.
“Boss, why risk your life to find out things that you already know?” quipped the moderator. Pat came the response from the resident wise head of the group; “Are you suggesting that all those who do not go to the private hospital die ? Lives are also saved in government hospitals.”
There is no way the Health minister would have heard of all that is being said by the people on his choice of hospitals. But if he did, health services in the state would perhaps be much the better for it.