Exorbitant money was charged from patients for different implants before October 2018.

 

NEW DELHI: The country’s premier Sports Injury Centre (SIC) at Safdarjung Hospital in the capital is in a soup following charges of massive irregularities and corruption. However, some corrupt bureaucrats in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, under which the hospital comes, have ensured blocking action in the case for about a year, in a bid to protect the culprits. The SIC was established in 2010, just before the Commonwealth Games (CWG).

A special audit, which was done by a government committee following several complaints, found irregularities in its functioning—ranging from violation in procurement of equipments and facilities, financial mismanagement to serious discrepancies in appointments of health care professionals. The seven-member committee, headed by Joint Secretary Rajiv Manjhi, was constituted in September 2018, which submitted its interim report in October 2018. Subsequently, it submitted an extensive final report of 62 pages in March last year.

Both the reports have pointed towards large-scale irregularities and corruption in the SIC during the tenure of Dr Deepak Chaudhary as its Director and recommended “detailed investigation” into the matter. However, some corrupt officials of the Ministry are sitting on the recommendations of the probe panel for the last about one year.

The government-initiated audit has revealed that there was “a nexus between SIC and a particular supplier, who has been supplying almost 90% of implants at exorbitant rates. The records suggest the provisions of GFRs have been twisted to favour the chosen supplier”. This correspondent compared the cost of implants done earlier with the cost at present and found it was highly inflated.

For example, Rs 102,375 was charged for single bundle ACLR/PCLR + single bundle PCLR + PLC reconstruction, which is now available at Rs 79,800 (a price drop of Rs 22,575). Similarly, double row rotator cuff repair was charged at Rs 94,500, which now costs 71,715 (a price drop of Rs 22,785). A Bankart repair would cost Rs 69,300, which has now been brought down to Rs 51,000. Inflated rate was charged from patients for other kinds of implants as well.

The committee, headed by Manjhi, recommended in its final report: “Considering large-scale irregularities and blatant violation of General Financial Rules (GFRs) / Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) instructions, the Government may consider detailed investigation in the matter”. Regarding purchase of items, the report observes: “The act of repeated purchase of similar items by making incorrect submissions / overlooking relevant facts, insinuates at some mala-fide intent on the part of the Indenting Officer, as the same has apparently led to wastage of precious public money.”

The committee observes there was “deliberate attempt to favour chosen firms, which are no other than the sister concerns of Cure Surgicals.” Further, it says: “All this suggests a gross negligence in the use and maintenance of expensive equipment.” Regarding procurement of two sets of Electrosurgical System for Arthroscopy, the report says: “The procurement process was rigged in a manner that one of the trio, i.e. father, son or daughter-in-law bagged the contract.” The committee report has pointed towards irregularities in the appointment of healthcare professionals like physiotherapists in the SIC.

“With regard to usefulness and usability of the equipment, it has been observed that the equipment with almost similar functions have been proposed to be procured twice by furnishing a certificate that the said equipment are being procured not as replacement or additional, but as first time procurement. Frequent purchases have been resorted to for certain equipment, such as Arthroscope 30 and 70 degrees, and camera etc. It is surprising that these equipment have been condemned even during the manufacturers’ warranty period. Another pertinent observation is that many of the equipment are not in a working condition,” said the report.

Besides Manjhi, the other members of the committee were D.D. Maheshwari (Under Secretary), S.K. Gupta (Under Secretary), Amit Choubey (Deputy Director), Dr H.L. Nag (Department of Ortho, AIIMS) and Prof Deep Sharma (HoD Ortho, JIPMER), who attended almost all sittings of the meeting.  Rajendran Nair (Representative of Procurement, Health Ministry) was nominated late and could not attend the meetings due to his medical condition.

In the earlier interim report, the committee said: “The overall value of implants being procured in SIC may go up to Rs 25 crore per annum, which are being procured at exorbitant prices, based on quotations on case-to-case basis. To a large extent, similar practices have been followed in respect to surgical items also. As per information made available to the committee, there is no rationalised purchases procedure followed for procurement of implants in SIC.”

Interestingly, after complaints of irregularities surfaced, Chaudhary was transferred to Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital in August 2018. However, soon after, he reportedly joined the private BL Kapoor Super Specialty Hospital, where he is still offering his services, as per the hospital’s website.

The Ministry in December 2018 issued a notice to Chaudhary for taking up a commercial assignment with a private hospital without prior permission from the government. According to sources, Chaudhary then applied for voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). But since his reply to the notice was not found to be satisfactory, his VRS request is still pending, said sources. Chaudhary, however, submitted an undertaking that he is not a salaried employee of BL Kapoor Hospital. After Chaudhary’s transfer to RML Hospital, a senior doctor from RML Hospital, Dr R.K. Arya, joined as Director of SIC, under whose tenure cost of implants has substantially come down.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), interestingly, approached the Health Ministry recently, asking for permission to initiate enquiry against the then Director. However, according to sources, even before the Ministry could decide on the permission, Chaudhary shot off a letter to Secretary Preeti Sudan giving his “representation” in the matter.

“There is no merit/case for carrying out any enquiry or investigation pertaining to me in this matter and any decision pertaining to sanction/enquiry/investigation should be taken only after giving me an opportunity to be heard in this matter/ offer my comments to the reference received from the CBI in this matter and after carefully examining the relevant records from Safdarjung Hospital,” he has written in his letter addressed to Sudan.

Interestingly, there are also allegations that the data related to SIC patients has been stolen and supplied to BLK Hospital. According to an RTI reply, the Safdarjung Enclave Police Station has been requested (by the SIC) for investigation and further action into the matter.

Government officials remained evasive on the issue. When contacted, Safdarjung Hospital’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Dinesh Narayan refused to comment on the matter. Rather he dwelt at length about the standard procedure to get official comment. “The standard procedure is that any media query, in writing, is first sent to the Medical Superintendent. And only after his approval, the information is revealed and put in public domain,” Narayan said.

Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan said: “I am busy in (dealing with) nCoronvirus. And there are some things that are handled at the Special Secretary and Joint Secretary levels. You may like to consult them.”

The SIC was established at the Safdarjung Hospital with an objective to provide comprehensive surgical, rehabilitative and diagnostic services under one roof for specialised treatment of sports and joint disorders. It was also considered that the Centre will also benefit the participants of the Commonwealth Games in October 2010.

It was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in September 2010 and was made functional just before the CWG. It is one of the largest medical centres in South East Asia catering to the specific needs of the sportspersons. The SIC also aims at developing the specialty of sports medicine in due course.

 

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