The government and the Opposition sparred in the Assembly on Monday over allegations of drug shortage in government hospitals. While Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan claimed hospitals have succumbed to a systemic failure, Health Minister Veena George retorted by accusing the Opposition of whipping up panic by propagating falsehood.
Responding to questions raised by United Democratic Front (UDF) legislators led by Anoop Jacob at the Question Hour, Ms. George maintained that the State government has ensured an adequate stock of medicines on the Essential Drugs List (EDL) in all government hospitals, including medical colleges, through Kerala Medical Services Corporation Ltd. (KMSCL).
For an entire year
According to her, hospitals are supplied medicines by the KMSCL for an entire year following a thorough procedure that commences some months prior to the new financial year. New batches of medicines are distributed whenever the existing stock falls to 30%. These can be replenished by a further 25% when the drug stocks dry out before the end of the financial year.
The Minister pointed out any further requirement of medicines, including those that do not figure on the EDL, can be purchased from Karunya pharmacies whenever the need arose. Drugs can also be obtained through inter-institutional transfer. The growing demand for medicines could be attributed to the high standards of treatment available in State-run hospitals and the quality of drugs supplied, she said. The government has distributed medicines worth ₹554 crore during the current fiscal until the first week of January, Ms. George added.
An unrelenting Mr. Satheesan, however, cited the findings of a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report which recorded 62,826 instances during which medicines could not be delivered to 67 hospitals within a stipulated period.
‘Firms suspend supply’
Around 80% of the required drugs could not be provided within the 60-day period stipulated for delivery of medicines. The report also stated that some essential medicines too had not been available for up to 1,745 days. Furthermore, KMSCL had placed orders for only 536 items, despite receiving requisition for 4,732 medicines from the hospitals. Many pharmaceutical companies have suspended drug supply to KMSCL due to its failure to pay outstanding dues, he alleged.
A high-level committee has concluded that the fire outbreaks in several KMSCL warehouses, including those in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Alappuzha, last year was due to the storage of bleaching powder in humid conditions.