A parliamentary panel on Saturday said that private hospitals charged coronavirus patients exorbitant fees as there was an absence of specific treatment guidelines and the number of beds in government hospitals was inadequate, PTI reported.

The observation was made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, in a report submitted to Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu. The panel is led by Rajya Sabha MP Ram Gopal Yadav.

“The cost of health service delivery increased due to absence of specific guidelines for COVID treatment in private hospitals as a result of which patients were charged exorbitant fees,” the panel said in its report. It added that a sustainable pricing model could have saved many lives.

The panel noted that expenditure on healthcare in India was “abysmally low”. It added that weak health infrastructure was a big obstacle in the fight against the pandemic.

The panel recommended that the government increase spending on healthcare within two years. “The committee recommends the government to make consistent efforts to achieve the National Health Policy targets of expenditure up to 2.5 per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] within two years as the set time frame of year 2025 is far away and the public health cannot be jeopardised till that time schedule,” the panel said.

The parliamentary panel also said that the entire population must be inoculated against the disease and that government must keep a check on black-marketing of the vaccine, The Tribune reported.

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It also emphasised on the need to ensure that vaccine candidates fulfil all the requirements for approval. “The vaccine should pass the strictly regulated route of all phases of clinical trials and the data should be made available in the public domain,” the panel said. “The ministry should follow a transparent approach so that any irregularity in the approval or production of vaccine is avoided.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held another review meeting on India’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy. Modi said that the progress of vaccine development, regulatory approvals and procurement were discussed.

India has not yet signed a deal for a coronavirus vaccine so it is unclear when it will be available for use in the country, despite some leaders promising it will be available from as early as January. So far, many other nations including the US, UK, the European Union, Australia and Israel have made deals to buy millions of doses of the vaccines. Availability of the vaccine in India will be subject to approval by domestic regulators, and the Indian government agreeing to purchase them.

Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla, however, said on Thursday that India can expect a coronavirus vaccine by December or early next year. The Indian Council of Medical Research and the Serum Institute are developing a vaccine named Covishield.

India registered 46,232 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, which took the country’s total to 90,50,597. India’s toll rose to 1,32,726 with 564 more deaths. The number of active cases stood at 4,39,747. As many as 84,78,124 people have recovered from the disease so far.