The Sindh chapter of the Young Doctors Association has demanded of the federal and provincial governments to nationalise private hospitals during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, claiming that private hospitals were focusing more on making money than on treating patients. Undoubtedly, the demand is driven by humanitarian concerns. The idea appears to be noble, but before deciding to nationalise private hospitals all aspects of the issue should be kept in view. First and foremost is the deplorable state of government hospitals in the country. Conditions at public hospitals are common knowledge so one does need to discuss it much. While unsubstantiated charges of money-making are often brought against private hospitals, it is also acknowledged that private initiatives in the healthcare sector is filling the huge gap left by government medical facilities.
So taking a decision on the spur of the moment and nationalise private healthcare facilities in a huff would only derail the entire existing system without providing a suitable alternative. Healthcare is a vital public issue so effecting changes in it involves careful planning and taking meticulous details into account. If nationalisation is done in a hurry, it will do more harm than good. We have had the experience of a misguided privatisation of industries and education in the 1970s. The exercise was mainly driven by populist politics and the disastrous consequences are well known.
Those advocating the case for nationalisation of hospitals have mentioned Spain and Italy where the government has taken control of private hospitals in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. PPP leader Nafisa Shah has also supported the demand citing the case of Spain and Italy. Obviously, the demand is based on erroneous assumptions. It is wholly unrealistic to compare Pakistan with these developed countries. Healthcare services, like much else, in Pakistan cannot be compared with those in the advanced nations. It is like trying to disguise cat as giraffe.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2020.
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