The Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow, established by the Uttar Pradesh Government in 1983 must be a top-rated medical facility. Otherwise, when he fell ill at ease, Mulayam Singh Yadav, former chief minister and now an MP, would not have been admitted for even an “overnight stay” earlier this week. Now he has been moved to Medanta, a private hospital in Gurgaon, suspected to be suffering from swine flu.

Isn’t it revealing that politicians who build institutions for the public, and call them top class, do not trust them? Or for that matter, that they are without adequate facilities to meet a patient’s needs? Remember how Vilasrao Deshmukh, twice Maharashtra chief minister, had to be flown to Chennai critically ill with kidney and liver problems in 2012? He had a chance to better the existing facilities in Maharashtra.

File image of Mulayam Singh. PTI ImageFile image of Mulayam Singh. PTI Image

File image of Mulayam Singh. PTI Image

Mulayam Singh Yadav was admitted to a private hospital and not even the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi which is touted to be best medicare provider in the state sector and duplicated in other parts of the country. In his recent Budget, Arun Jaitley mentioned the plans to open AIIMS or AIIMS-like institutions in some new regions.

This should raise several questions, one of them being whether what is best for people like us who cannot afford extraordinarily expensive hospitals is just not good enough for the political leaders like Yadav or Deshmukh. The mistrust of the public healthcare system appears to be increasing among the leaders, even as the growth of the private sector and respect for it among them is on the rise.

This is despite the various government hospitals across the country having special sections devoted entirely for the VIPs, which the Times Now has been detailing. It is part of its campaign to end the VIP culture. But it so happens that the VIPs who occupy such facilities in such government hospitals are, relatively speaking, small fry like IAS and IPS officers.

Let me take you back to a conversation I had with VP Singh, whose after his prime ministership was behind him, was a regular visitor to Mumbai. He came with his posse of security men, an entitlement of former PMs, and stayed in the State Guest House when not in a private hospital for his dialysis. When asked why he preferred Mumbai to Delhi, he said, “Dilli ka pani acchha nahi hai (Delhi’s water is not good)”. It was as if the water from the municipality was being used.

My jaw dropped to my knees.

“It is like this”, he explained, “I do not trust the cleanliness of the water used there and hence this visits to Mumbai.”

But you have been in Delhi long enough to persuade the authorities to do things right, what about the people like us, we asked? His bland response was, it takes time to change things.

Things have, indeed changed, but for the worse. And here’s why, as Dr Ravi Bapat, an emeritus professor at Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital in Mumbai said on Facebook that he wasn’t surprised to hear of Yadav’s admission in a private hospital. Bapat has dwelt on this tendency in his book, Ward No. 5, KEM, on the steady shift of the VIPs away from public hospitals which should freak out people like us.

He writes:

“Until 1975, all (Maharashtra) ministers and senior government officials would go to the state government-run St George’s Hospital. The municipal big shots and small fries would come to us (KEM); the mayor, the councillors, the municipal officers. Of course, all the best facilities, the most modern equipment and the best doctors of the time were found in these general ‘public’ hospitals.”

And then there was a well-aimed poke at the changing political system, its values and disdain for public hospitals:

“There were special rooms reserved for the VIPs and VVIPs. Also there were few ‘five star’ hospitals then. Or maybe, the kind of money they charge wasn’t available with the politicians of yore. As long as the politicians and officials went to the general hospitals, they were attentive about what was happening there.

“Now things have changed. The workers come to the general hospitals, the leaders go to private nursing homes and the ministers go only to the most expensive, up-market, exclusive five-star places. Central government ministers go abroad. General hospitals have therefore been ignored by the rulers of the land. The same is true about senior bureaucrats and other influential officials Unless and until these people frequent, have faith in and respect general hospitals, the specialists, the equipment and the facilities, they will not be used by the common man without prejudice. They will always be suspect.”

Dr Bapat, who could have worked in any of the private sector hospitals that were coming up, swore he would stay only with public hospitals and has seen it all. The thing is, even as he remains in that government sector, he has been consulted by decision-making politicians who have been treated in posh private hospitals. But there may be a small flaw in his argument about them not having had money to pay the bills of these hospitals. Chances are, they are seldom billed these days, and if billed, they may remain unpaid.

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Mulayam Singh in hospital: Why netas preferring private hospitals is bad for public ones