Relatives said some of the patients were not even supposed to be at the coronavirus isolation unit in the first place
The five unfortunate deaths at United Hospitals must not be seen as an isolated incident. They are merely a culmination of systemic tendency to cut corners and an ingrained apathy towards patient welfare.
It is curious that the hospital press release, issued hours after the event, claims that hospital’s "firefighters were able to douse the flames with the help of the Fire Service."
The false claim, evident from statements of Fire Service officials and witnesses, is part of the hospital’s attempt at creating an impression that it had exerted all efforts to save the patients whereas testimony and circumstances suggest to the contrary.
This only corresponds with the hospital’s systemic attempt to deceive patients and visitors into believing that safety measures are adequate. But eight of the 11 fire extinguishers at the coronavirus unit had expired. Fire Service officials expressed serious doubts about those inside the hospital too.
It is also not the first time United Hospital has been caught with expired material. In 2018, it was fined Tk20 lakh for expired reagents that the hospital claimed were not being used for diagnostic tests.
It is also evident, from statements of relatives, that some of the patients were not even supposed to be at the isolation unit in the first place, having tested negative for the novel coronavirus infection. The only reason that they were still at the hastily set up corona unit was because of the hospital’s reluctance to release them.
The enthusiasm at collecting bills and reluctance at releasing patients sound like a familiar experience for many at these upscale private hospitals.
United Hospital’s rhetoric that the coronavirus isolation unit was hastily set up only to abide by government directive suggests that the hospital is not culpable at all, but it was the government that had asked for this unit. It suggests as if the hospital itself did not need to treat coronavirus patients at all and would not do so, had the government not made them.
In fact, that has been the attitude of the private hospitals and medical establishments barring a handful of them.
The government hospitals and their doctors have been bearing the brunt of treating coronavirus patients at the frontline, while an overwhelming proportion of private hospitals have refrained from sharing that burden. Many private hospitals have simply shut down and those that are open have turned away patients with any kind of flu symptoms whether corona positive or not.
The kind of selfless commitment towards serving people in need of treatment, that gives the medical profession its noble reputation has been all but absent in Bangladesh.
It appears to be lost on private medical establishments that hospitals and hotels are not the same. It appears to be lost on them that while attempting to keep hotel rooms filled to capacity would be deemed good business, doing the same at hospitals would be deemed criminal.
This begs a deeper examination of the nature of private healthcare business and the attitude of professionals at these private institutions, especially with the looming coronavirus outbreak that is certain to grip Bangladesh in the coming days when we will need all hands on deck.