Public Smell a Rat in ‘RAT’ Charges in Ratnapura
By Buddhika Samaraweera
The role played by doctors, nurses and other health professionals for the well-being of patients and the general public, in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, is truly commendable.
However, if someone who represents the same field by pledging to serve the people makes the COVID- 19 or its victims an additional source of income, it is a great injustice to the people, as well as a disgrace to those in the sector they serve.
In this context, Ceylon Today heard about a Consultant at the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital who approves the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), the latest method introduced to test persons for the COVID-19, and made it an additional source of income.
While the time has now come for everyone to work towards being a source of strength to others at a time many people have lost their livelihoods and workplaces have taken steps to deduct employees’ salaries, where people are helpless, it is truly unfortunate that instead of being the solution some people end up being a hindrance to others.
It cannot even be imagined how officials who are dedicated to serve the people could be so insensitive as to receive a commission from tests conducted to identify the infection of this virus, especially in a background where a large number of COVID-19 infected are being reported daily from these areas.
There are about three leading private hospitals located in close proximity to the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital. With the introduction of the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) to the country, one of these three hospitals (hereafter referred to as hospital No. 1) plans to conduct Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests and it has, however, not been able to implement it. Later, the hospital focused its efforts on conducting the RAT, the latest method to identify COVID- 19 patients.
The case in point begins here. Although hospital No. 1 plans to conduct RAT, they have had to face an unexpected obstacle. That is, the aforementioned Consultant at the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital, who provides services to the hospital No 1 too, who informs that she charges Rs 1,200 to authorise each RAT report. As a result, hospital No. 1 is reported to have had to give up its plans on conducting these tests.
However, it was reported to Ceylon Today that another private hospital in the Ratnapura area (hereafter referred to as hospital No. 2), is conducting these tests at a reduced price of Rs 3,750, although the same RAT could be done in Colombo for around Rs 2,000. Until recently, hospital No. 2 had charged a fee of Rs 4,950 for this test, but it has been reduced to Rs. 3,750 due to some criticism on social media in recent times.
Also, it was reported that since hospital No 1 does not perform the RAT, when patients are being admitted to the hospital, they are referred to hospital 2 for testing to determine if they are infected with the COVID-19 virus. After obtaining the test report from hospital No 1, patients would be admitted to hospital No 2.
When Ceylon Today inquired how much hospital No 2 charges for a Rapid Antigen Test, it was learned that they are currently charging Rs. 3,750 for the test. When asked why it costs significantly more than its price in Colombo, they said it is higher than other hospitals because they have to pay a Consultant.
Accordingly, the Consultant, who informed hospital No 1 that she needs Rs 1,200 to authorise each Rapid Antigen Test report has imposed the same condition on hospital No 2.
However, a branch in the Homagama area affiliated to hospital No 2 runs a mobile service to carry out Rapid Antigen Tests and charges only Rs 2,500 for the test and Rs. 60 per kilometre they travel to get to the customers’ place of residence.
A private hospital must have a sound relationship with the nearest Government hospital. This is because private hospitals are often staffed by doctors working at the nearby Government hospital. However, it is reported that doctors working at the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital are making various threats to boycott private hospitals if they (private hospitals) do not act according to their wishes. In such a situation, private hospitals also have to toe the line.
For example, at one point one of the aforesaid three hospitals in Ratnapura, had hired a doctor from another hospital in the area, and at that time, a certain doctor attached to the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital had asked the said private hospital, not to recruit him.
It was also revealed that the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital usually accepts medical reports authorised by doctors working there and even a notice issued some time ago, had been displayed at the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital stating that the reports issued by the Medical Laboratory affiliated to another private hospital would not be accepted as the said hospital did not employ doctors from the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital. Eventually, the private hospital had to remove its laboratory in Ratnapura, sources said.
Ceylon Today is also informed that doctors affiliated to the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital, but also serving at these private hospitals, are exerting pressure on private hospitals in Ratnapura, in particular to decide what fees they should charge from patients. For this reason, although the private hospitals want to provide some relief to their customers, they are unable to do so.
If medical professionals continue to act in this manner, private hospitals will eventually close their doors in Ratnapura and people will have to face various inconveniences as a result. Whatever the views on private hospitals and private healthcare, they too are still doing a significant service to the public and if there is no competitive environment for private hospitals in a particular area, the benefits given to the people will reduce.
At a time when the whole world is suffering in the face of the COVID-19, we can all understand the impact it has on people living in a country like ours. While a very few live a life of luxury, the majority of the people in Sri Lanka were making a living amidst many economic hardships, even before this pandemic. In this backdrop, the people of Ratnapura are being forced to pay around Rs 3,750 for a test which can be done for around Rs 2,500 in Colombo due to this Consultant’s actions.
Even in the current situation caused by the COVID- 19, she will no doubt receive a monthly salary from the Government as a Consultant, a monthly salary for providing services to private hospitals, and all other Government allowances. However, these days there is no such formal income for people working in private companies or those who are engaged in minor jobs. Especially in an area like Ratnapura, it is very difficult for people to make a living these days. In such a situation, isn’t this action a disgrace to the entire health sector? In recent times, people have got to know of officials in the health sector who are dedicated to serving the people in the midst of lots of adversity such as shortage of residential facilities, delays in overtime payments and shortages of Personal Protective Equipment. Now those are the selfless health officials we all love and care for.
When contacted, Director of Laboratory Services, Dr. Vijith Gunasekara said that private hospitals have been given permission to conduct Rapid Antigen Tests. However, the hospitals have reached an agreement to carry out the tests for Rs 2,000, although this has not been confirmed as yet, he said. He further said that the price to be charged for such tests should be decided by a special committee which has still not come up with a specific price.
Meanwhile, the Editor of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Dr. Haritha Aluthge when inquired about this said that this dual price structure was completely unethical. He said that necessary steps should be taken in this regard through the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and the Ministry of Health and that the GMOA will also look into this matter in the future.
When the Consultant who works at the Ratnapura Teaching Hospital who requests for Rs 1,200 to authorise a RAT being carried out at the said private hospital was contacted by Ceylon Today, she did not deny the allegation and said, “Don’t ask me anything about this. Ask the private hospital.”
Ceylon Today also made several attempts to contact an official in the higher echelons of private hospital No 2 to get their side of the story, but to no avail.