First Sreesha approached the security guard of the Osmania General Hospital. “Do you have a wheelchair for my mother?” she asked. Her mother had suffered a stroke and had been brought to the hospital for treatment. He directed her to a health worker who asked for a bribe instead. She didn’t have enough money on her, so he asked her to find one herself in the casualty ward.
A good half an hour later, she finally found a wheelchair for her ailing mother.
Osmania General Hospital is infamous for its corruption – ask any of the sanitation or security worker there, they admit to taking a “small charge” for their services, even if it is for a government-funded X-Ray.
The hospital administration acknowledges that corruption is rampant, but apart from taking a formal complaint, little can happen if there is no proof of crime attached to the complaint.
Even the Osmania Hospital staff are complicit in the graft. Some will help you obtain a fake medical certificate for a negotiable price. A video secretly recorded by a student, Saima*, who had approached the staff for a medical certificate, shows a deal being struck. The video shows the casualty ward attender negotiating the bribe with the student in front of the on-duty Resident Medical Officer (RMO). TNM is in possession of the video.
"We will only be able to take action if a formal complaint is being registered," Dr Kavita, Civil Assistant Surgeon RMO, told TNM after watching the video.
Saima, a third-year B.Com student, had suffered a fracture on her left arm for which she took treatment from a bonesetter in the Old City, but needed a medical certificate to produce at her university to avoid dropping a semester. An acquaintance put her in touch with an Osmania Hospital staff, Mohammad Jaffar who agreed to get the document ready for her.
"It was only after I visited the hospital that I realised that getting a certificate this way was illegal and that I would have to pay them a bribe for it. The attender was told that the RMO would issue the certificate if I paid a bribe of Rs 1000; I eventually paid a bribe of Rs 600," said Saima. "For a rich person, Rs 600 may not be a big amount; for me, that Rs 600 was two week's worth of college allowance. I took the video so that other poor people don't fall for this.”
The video shows Mohammad Jaffar negotiating the bribe with Sania in the presence of an unidentified RMO at room number 108 of Osmania Hospital. The video was taken sometime in April this year.
When questioned about the bribe, Mohammad Rafi, the on-duty RMO to whom Jaffar reports, said, "The attender has mouths to feed and that is why he is doing this.” Rafi then claimed he was unaware of the bribes being taken by his staff.
When confronted Jaffar said, "Not just me, every attender and security guard does this at the hospital. We do fake medical certificates for traffic police, the police and even for those from the judiciary. What is the big deal?"
"Such practices are most commonly noticed among the class-four government employees. The contract employees are aware that if they get caught for such things they will be stacked immediately, but for the government employee there is no immediate termination. We may suspend them, but they will lobby and either get a transfer to another hospital or get reinstated with little or no consequences. There definitely is a need to bring more accountability to the system, we urge the public to approach the hospital management with a written complaint to put an end to such practices," said Kavita.
At Osmania Government Hospital, corruption seeps into almost every service.
For taking an X-Ray, ultrasound scan or CT scan at the time of collecting the reports, one must pay the security guard anywhere between Rs 50 to Rs 100. On any given day, over 300- 400 people come for these scans at the hospital.
At the Cardiology and CT Surgery division, to jump the queue for a doctor’s appointment, usually done through a token system, the security guard takes Rs 50. If he isn’t paid, he will simply push you further up the list.
"We don't get our salaries on time...it is very erratic. So we take some Rs 5 or Rs 10 for small services," said a sanitation worker with the hospital. The security guard and sanitation workers TNM spoke to said they take the bribe as they do not get their salaries on time. IN fact, they say, some months they don't get salaries at all.
Security guards and sanitation workers were earlier hired by the hospital administration; now the labour supply is outsourced to manpower supplying firms. For Hyderabad, Agile Group has won a three-year government contract to provide security, sanitation and health workers for government-run hospitals. Rs 11,500 is paid to security guards and Rs 12,500 to sanitation workers.
Speaking to TNM, the director for Agile Group, Shyam Sundar Reddy, said,"I am aware that corruption happens, but if I take action by suspending someone, the unions will get involved and they will sit on a dharana. The allegation that salaries have not been paid is baseless. We have bank records to prove that we are crediting their salaries,"
Reddy, however, admits that there is often a delay in crediting the salaries. "The salaries have to come from the state government. Every month I have to get the cheque cleared and there are delays from the state Finance Department," he added.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual