No PPP for Railways Hospitals; says Railway Board

Western Railway's Divisional Railway Hospital at Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Western Railway’s Divisional Railway Hospital at Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, Gujarat

New Delhi: The much-hyped Bibek Debroy committee on the restructuring of railways might have recommended privatisation of the railways’ massive health system, but in a reply to a set of queries, the railway ministry has denied any such move. In an answer to a question on whether there was a plan to put up some of the bigger railway hospitals under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model, the railway ministry’s Directorate of Health and Family Welfare replied, “No.” It also said that the Central government’s recent decision to increase the retirement age of doctors from 60 to 65 would put no additional burden on the ministry’s finances.

The Bibek Debroy committee had called the railways’ medical services a peripheral activity of the department and had recommended that the general managers be given the right to take help of private health firms, wherever required. It recommended that treatment of railway employees could be entrusted to the Central Government Health Scheme run by the Union ministry of Health and Family Welfare or even private hospitals. The committee recommendations came on the back of a CAG report tabled in Parliament in November 2014, which showed that during the audited period – 2008 to 2013 – only about 4% of the total expenditure on railways’ medical services was capital expenditure (money to buy equipment and upgrade hospitals).

In fact, the CAG report pointed out that during this period, only 13% of the money spent was for medicines. The largest chunk of 47% was for salaries and 21% was for sanitation works in railway colonies. The report also noted that during this period, the railways spent Rs1,146 crore or around Rs 230 crore a year on referring its employees to non-railway and private hospitals for specialised treatment. The railways runs one of the biggest in-house medical systems in the country. It owns large and mid-sized hospitals and health units in several hundred cities and towns of India. Many of them can be turned into full-fledged health systems for particular areas. In fact, the railways even has a super-specialty cancer research centre of its own in Varanasi.

Railways’ Healthcare muscle

  • Hospitals: 127
  • Health units: 586
  • Cancer institute: 1
  • Doctors: 2,593
  • Staff: 37,042
  • OPD patients in 2015-16: 21,468,747
  • Admitted patients in 2015-16: 494,626
  • Expenditure for 2015-16: Rs2,229 crore
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