Doctors accused of fleecing patients
Manama, September 17, 2012
Doctors at Bahrain's main hospital, Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC), have been accused of fleecing patients by charging them five times the cost of treatment to avoid lengthy waiting lists.
Sources said the victims - usually expatriates in need of surgery for painful conditions - could have gone under the knife at the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) for a nominal fee, had they been prepared to wait several months.
But many are persuaded by senior consultants, who operate private practices, to pay extra so they can be admitted as an "emergency patient."
"We have seen many patients, particularly low-paid expatriates, at the accident and emergency department who come regularly for treatment of kidney and gall bladder stones or some other minor ailments that need surgical intervention," said one senior doctor.
"They are examined by on-call specialists who rightly tell them they have to undergo surgery but would have to wait for a bed. They are asked to await a call from the hospital, but that never comes."
However, the doctor said the patients were told to visit the consultant's private clinic if they sought immediate treatment.
"There are patients who have paid between BD150 ($398.94) and BD300 at private clinics to get a surgery for kidney stone done at the SMC - only because they have been to the consultants' private clinic," he told the GDN.
The doctor revealed that after paying the money, patients are asked to present themselves at the A&E department for examination by the on-call doctor, who is given a letter from the consultant requesting the patient to be admitted.
"At the department, when the patient is in pain, emergency doctors summon the on-call doctor who after seeing the letter brought by the patient, recommends immediate admission," he said.
"In this way, the patient bypasses the entire waiting list since the case is then an emergency.”
"This also pushes back further those patients who have been on the list for a long time."
Another doctor said patients paying an extra amount to avoid the SMC waiting list was a common practice.
"This is done even for complicated cases that cost much more," he said.
"The private patients of doctors are treated at the SMC using hospital facilities, but doctors pocket the money.”
"While it is true that not all consultants are doing this, there are a large number who indulge in such practices."
The Bahraini said some of the doctors helping patients to skip the waiting list included ministry officials and Bahrain Medical Society (BMS) members.
Sources said this was why plans to force around 100 government doctors with private practices to quit their jobs at the ministry or give up their businesses were "long overdue".
Former Health Minister Dr Fatima Al Balooshi said in June last year that doctors should choose between the public and private sector, in a bid to reduce waiting lists and ensure patients get the best service.
National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) chief executive Dr Baha Eldin Fathea yesterday said the body was committed to implementing the order.
"We are aware of complaints about government doctors treating their private patients at the SMC," he said.
"The idea is not only to protect patient rights but also to ensure fair competition. What is the idea of competition when private doctors are using government facilities to treat their patients?"
The NHRA earlier said anyone found breaking the rule would be forced to close their business no later than January and banned from working in private clinics and hospitals.
However, in the last few days, doctors have claimed the rule could lead to all "competent and senior" doctors leaving the government sector for more lucrative private practices.
They said the rule could also seriously jeopardise patient care at SMC - if it was not able to benefit from the expertise of specialists.
The Bahrain Medical Society also expressed reservations about the rule, saying the government should study the financial status of medical professionals and the capability of the SMC to handle such a decision. – TradeArabia News Service