Health Minister Says SJGH Is A Den Of Corruption
By Nirmala Kannangara
Astonishing revelations have come to the fore as to how the Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital (SJGH) has become a den of corruption with the blessings of its administrators.
Although SJGH is a semi government hospital administered by a Board of Directors appointed by the Health Minister, it is surprising to note that the hospital is neither following government tender procedure nor purchasing medicines and medical equipment from the Medical Supplies Division of the Health Ministry but from private parties instead.
According to the hospital staff, rampant corruption is taking place at the SJGH openly although no action has been taken against anyone so far.
“This is the sad side of the story. If a minor employee is caught taking a panadol from the hospital pharmacy for any illness, strict disciplinary action would be taken against him. But when the higher officials engage in any form of corruption, they are well protected. Even the Health Ministry is turning a blind eye to this corruption,” said an employee on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile the Health Ministry too has come under severe criticism for its failure to take stern action against the Board of Directors and other higher officials who are notorious for engaging in bribery and corruption.
Western Provincial Council Member Nimal R. Peiris too was in for a rude shock when he was cheated by the hospital.
“Following heart failure I was admitted to SJGH on May 22 for an angiogram test and was discharged on May 26. Since there was an urgent need to undergo a coronary angioplasty and stenting to unblock the valves, I was advised to get it done at the earliest by the Consultant Cardiologist Dr Jagath Herath. I was also given an estimate for Rs. 650,000 for the operation. On May 30, I entered the SJGH for the operation and was operated the following day. Within a couple of hours after my operation a female nurse came and said that the cost had exceeded the estimated amount and the new bill would go up by a further Rs.100,000,” said Peiris. According to him, he was extremely disconcerted by this sudden revelation.
Peiris also said that, “Not even two hours after I was brought back to Ward 19 from the operating theater, a young man came to my bed and gave me a bill for Rs. 21,293. When I inquired from him what it was for, I was told that it was the cost for some medical items provided for my operation. After a few minutes yet another man came with a thundering bill for Rs. 490,000 claiming that it was for the two coronary stents he had supplied for the operation. A little while later the third and fourth men came with two more separate bills for Rs. 13,750 and Rs. 118,500 for two more services provided for my operation. Realizing that the hospital had cheated me, I was firm with them and said that my agreement is with the SJGH and not with any other private parties and those payments would not be made,” added Peiris. Peiris further said that he was surprised as to how the SJGH Director Dr S. Gamage instructed the hospital authorities to add the four bills to his (Peiris) hospital bill.
“When I was discharged on June 2, I was given the hospital bill for Rs. 87,500. When I refused to pay the other four bills Director Gamage wanted the accounts department to add the four bills to the hospital bill. With the addition of the four dubious bills the total hospital bill came to Rs. 731,043,” said Peiris.
Peiris also added that he saw a female nurse collecting money from other patients in Ward 19 and handing it over to these four men.
“This is daylight robbery. This is the first time that I have come across such a ploy in hospitals. Who are these men and who have given them the authority to collect money in such an inhumane way? Even in private hospitals, whether they purchase these medical equipment from private parties, they never issue separate bills but add it to the final bill. The explanation given for the Rs. 80,000 difference in the final bill and the estimate, was that the hospital had to use some longer stents than what they have expected. Even the private hospitals do not charge like this way when an estimate has been give for an operation. If the Health Ministry too is well aware and does not take any action to sack those who are involved in these doubtful transactions, to whom could we turn,” asked Peiris.
Meanwhile Colombo District UNP Parliamentarian Wijedasa Rajapakse said that he too was shocked to note how private parties were allowed to engage in ‘businesses’ with the SJGH.
“When I went to see Peiris at SJGH, I was told by another patient in Ward 19 about how these four private parties wanted him to pay some bills claiming that they had provided some medical equipment for the operation. No sooner I came to know about this racket, I telephoned Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena. He too was shocked to hear about this and said that he was not surprised since he knew that the SJGH is a den of corruption. However the minister said that he will take immediate steps to find out who is behind these rackets and why they follow such procedure bypassing government rules and regulations. The minister further assured me that disciplinary action would be taken against the wrongdoers without considering their status,” said Rajapaksa.
Meanwhile, the convener of the Joint Trade Union Association SJGH queried as to who had allowed technical officers of these private parties to be inside the main operating theater to provide equipment for the operations.
“When we saw unauthorized people in the main operating theater, we asked our Administrative Officer as to who they were and who have given them authority to be inside the theater. We were told that he too was not aware and added that no permission had been granted to them,” the convener said.
The Union further queried as to how a member of the nursing staff could collect money from patients privately, when boards have been put up all over the hospital not to make any payments to any party other than to the hospital cashier.
The Union also alleged that the Chairman and Directors had invited the media recently and entertained them by spending lavishly and promised to give them special discounts in order to get articles written about how good the SJGH is.
“Knowing the media is attacking the Board of Directors of SJGH for mismanagement, they now want to get good articles written about them,” Union members said.
However refuting allegations Chairman SJGH Nimal Bandara said that there was no harm in taking services from private parties.
“When we want any medical equipment we get them from these parties. What is wrong with this practice? This is done to avoid the patient paying an additional 12% VAT. We also do not have enough funds to purchase this equipment since they are costly. When private parties are allowed to ‘sell’ this equipment directly to the patients without hospital involvement it is helpful to us,” said Bandara.
When asked on what basis these private parties had been allowed to supply medical equipment, Bandara had no answer. He however admitted that those parties are not registered with the hospital and clamed that they would be registered as suppliers in the next few days.