On January 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Institute of Medical Research, also called SVP Hospital, in Ahmedabad. The 17-storey hospital is being called the largest health facility run by an urban local body in India. But the new hospital has come up even as the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is simultaneously trying to reduce the number of beds from the Vadilal Sarabhai General Hospital and Chinai Maternity Home, an 88-year-old public charitable hospital.

Brijeshbhai Chinai and Rupa Chinai, members of the board of the Trust that runs Vadilal Sarabhai General Hospital and Chinai Maternity Home, have filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court against a board resolution to reduce the number of beds at the old hospital from 1,155 to 500.

The SVP hospital is administered by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s Medical Education Trust. The Chinai and Sarabhai families say that the municipal corporation’s Trust can have its new hospital but that should leave the old hospital as is. However, Dr Kuldeep Arya, deputy municipal commissioner, said there was no question of running the new 1,500-bed SVP Hospital and also have 1,155 beds at the old hospital. “We cannot have so many beds in the same area,” he said.

Vadilal Sarabhai General Hospital (also known as VS Hospital) and Chinai Maternity Home was set up in 1931 with donations from the Sarabhai and Chinai families on land provided by the Ahmedabad municipality. As per the Trust deed drawn up under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was the mayor of the city at that time, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation provides the hospital’s running costs. A nine-member board – four members from the Sarabhai and Chinai families and five members from the municipal corporation – are responsible for its administration. The hospital provides free or subsidised treatment to patients from poor households.

The Chinais and members of the Sarabhai family now allege that municipal corporators who form the majority on the board passed a resolution to reduce the number of beds at the hospital against the wishes of the donor families, against the interest of patients, and against the spirit in which the Trust was set up – to serve poor patients from all backgrounds. The hospital gets more than 60,000 outpatients and more than 6,000 inpatients every month.

“They clearly intend to kill VS Hospital,” said Rupa Chinai. “They intend to cut off the oxygen and leave it a mere shell so patients will stop coming.”

Higher costs of treatment

The donor families fear that higher cost of treatment at the new hospital will exclude poor patients who have been coming to the old hospital for treatment. Dr Nishith Shah, arthroscopic surgeon at VS Hospital and member of the board, said patients are charged between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000 for minor and major surgical procedures, that investigations were performed free of cost and many medicines were provided for free at the old hospital.

The new SVP Hospital has been constructed on municipal land right next to the old hospital. The super-speciality hospital will have 1,500 beds, is supposed to have “world-class” facilities and has a rooftop helipad for air ambulance services. Patients can be treated in the general category or the executive category, according to the hospital’s schedule of charges. In the general category, outpatient consultations range between Rs 50 and Rs 150 and operation charges range from between Rs 3,000 and Rs 9,000. Outpatient consultations in the executive category range between Rs 100 and Rs 300 and surgeries cost between Rs 10,000 and Rs 50,000. Patients are also charged for investigations – lower rates in the general category and higher rates in the executive category.

Arya said that the tariff structure of SVP Hospital is different from VS Hospital because people are ready to pay more for good quality service. “Obviously, it will be slightly higher,” he said. “But it will be 20% to 25% of the cost of treatment in other private hospitals. People do not mind paying a nominal amount and these are very nominal rates compared to other hospitals.”

Vadilal Sarabhai General Hospital. (Photo courtesy: Save Sarabhai General and Chinai Maternity Hospitals, Ahmedabad/Facebook).

Moving beds

In December, a month before the new hospital was inaugurated, the board of VS Hospital and Chinai Maternity Home passed a resolution to reduce the number of beds from 1,155 to 500.

Rupa Chinai said that this resolution was forced through by the five corporators from the BJP. Initially, there were eight voting members on the board – four from the donor families and four from the corporation. In the 1960s, the board decided to incorporate a member from the Opposition party. In 2012, the composition of the board changed, said Chinai. “The BJP ousted the Congress member and replaced him with a BJP member,” she said. “This is how they started the whole process of passing every resolution through with a majority of one.”

In 2013, the board passed a resolution to keep 120 beds at the old hospital, which was its capacity when it was set up in 1931.

The donor families who were against the move approached the charity commissioner who directed the two factions of the board to come to a resolution. Chinai said that the corporators who are members of the board did not consult with donor family board members but passed another resolution in December to keep 500 beds at the old hospital.

“Over nine decades, VS Hospital has grown in a haphazard manner,” said Arya. “Moreover it was in a dilapidated condition. So, in 2013, we decided to have a new hospital.”

Shifting staff

VS Hospital is staffed by doctors from the NHL Medical College, which is on the same campus. This college is a government institution run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s Medical Education Trust.

Shah said each department in VS Hospital has a professor, an assistant professor, an associate professor and residents, and that the assistant professors, associate professors and some residents have been shifted to to the new hospital.

On its website, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s Medical Education Trust lists the transfer of faculty members as one of its main functions. “Most of the people appointed in VS Hospital are under AMC MET [Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s Medical Education Trust],” said Arya. “We have transferred those people only. They were working in VS Hospital but they were staff of AMC MET.”

Chinai said that VS Hospital will be left with only small group of consultants and regional medical officers. “We have been a specialty hospital with cardiology and nephrology and a range of services that the poor have benefitted from,” she said. “Now they will have to go to this new hospital where they will have to pay for it.”

Chinai is also concerned that the municipal corporation might hand the new hospital over to a private party to run through a public-private partnership at a later date.

In October 2017, the state-run civil hospital in Gujarat’s Dahod district was handed over to pharmaceutical company Zydus Cadilla, which now runs the hospital and medical college as part of a public private partnership under the state government’s health policy. Shortly after the handover, a public interest litigation was filed in the Gujarat High Court complaining that the hospital had started charging poor patients for medical treatment that had previously been free of cost.

Although, the Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital and Chinai Maternity Home continues to function, its future is uncertain. The Chinai and Sarabhai families have started a social media campaigns to save the hospital even as they continue to look for assurances from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. “We need a specific undertaking from the corporation and a plan on how the hospital is going to continue to run with 500 beds,” said Chinai. “Where are the finances, where is the staff?”