The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Saturday launched a drive against illegal hospitals and diagnostic centres across the country after issuing a 72-hour ultimatum.
On the initial day of the drive, it sealed off and fined at least 88 medical facilities in Dhaka, Natore, Chuadanga, Tangail, Sylhet, Pabna, Chattogram and other districts for not having licences – the prerequisite to run a healthcare service.
Earlier on 26 May, the health authorities asked all illegal healthcare facilities to shut down their operations within 72 hours. All registered facilities were instructed to update their licences within a stipulated period in order to remain operational.
"The key objective of the drive is to bring illegal medical facilities under registration. Although registration is a continuous process, conducting drives yields great fruit," a senior official of the directorate told The Business Standard. He wished to remain unnamed as he is not authorised to talk to the media.
Before 2020, the number of registered private hospitals, clinics and diagnostics across the country was only 4,000. The figure has now jumped to 10,000 thanks to the drives, he added in a note of sarcasm.
The authorities conducted such a drive for the first time in November 2018 and for the second time in August 2020. More than a hundred medical facilities were sealed off in the two drives.
"We are conducting the drive [the latest one] on the basis of the data provided by divisional commissioners and district-level civil surgeons," said DGHS Director (Hospitals and Clinics) Mohammad Belal Hossain.
Those who had already applied for licences and met the requirements would get licences soon, he told TBS, adding that the authorities would carry out such drives on a regular basis.
"Hospitals which have no licences and did not apply for them will be sealed off in phases."
As of November 2020, the country had some 20,000 private hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres, according to the directorate, of which 10,893 facilities had renewed licences, some 6,000 were under the inspection of the authorities and the rest, around 3,000, did not apply for licences.
Why drives are occasional
Although the health directorate has conducted drives against the illegal operation of hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres, it failed to continue the drives, creating the scope for further irregularities.
Officials said there are four key reasons – lack of manpower, carelessness of local health authorities, weak security of the health administrators and abuse of political powers – behind the failure.
To ease the registration process and make the sector show better compliance, the government introduced an online registration system back in 2018. Four years on, many yet remain unregistered.
"The DGHS raid against illegal private hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic centres in a season is not normal. And it does not work, indeed," said Syed Abdul Hamid, professor at the Institute of Health Economics of Dhaka University.
"Immediately after the drives, the sealed off hospitals resume their operations by any means."
He told TBS that it is not usual that a hospital runs in an upazila, district or divisional town without having a licence. "There are civil surgeons and health officials, and they must enforce it."
"Civil surgeons and health officials should be provided with adequate manpower so that they can monitor all the medical facilities in their jurisdiction. There will be no illegal hospital or clinic then."
The health economics professor explained that one has to have 19-20 licences to avail of a hospital licence and those are also needed for renewal, which is very time-consuming and full of hassles.
He suggested a one-stop service for hospital, clinic or diagnostic centre licences to be obtained.