By Asmat Shah Garwaki
PESHAWAR, Mar 12 (APP): Free and subsidized provision of public healthcare service is one of the top welfare initiatives being offered by the government to facilitate the ailing community across the board.
Every political government tries to launch special healthcare and service delivery programs for the wellbeing of the masses. In this regard, the former government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has launched ‘Sehat Card Plus’ program under the social protection initiative in December 2015, which had initially covered free medical and surgical treatment of about 50 percent of the province.
Primarily, the program was launched in Kohat, Mardan, Malakand and Chitral districts wherein as many as 1.8 million poor households (approximately 150 million people) were entitled to get free medical treatment up to Rs 540,000 at designated hospitals of the province.
Later in February 2019, the program was extended across the country including all districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in its second phase with a target to provide free treatment including surgeries and medicines up to Rs. one million to each family of over 80 million people at 1000 designated hospitals.
“Treatment under Sehat Card Plus (SCP) continued in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite financial constraints and around 9.7 million families were benefited from the incentive costing Rs 30 billion expenses in the second phase,” said Riaz Tanoli, Chief Executive Officer, Sehat Cards Plus Program KP while talking to APP.
In the first phase, he said that 2.3 million people availed the facility and Rs 6 billion were spent on their treatment. The program initially covered three per cent of the population in four districts in 2015 and later extended to 51, 70 and 100 per cent population of the province till November 2019 in three different phases respectively, he added.
Despite the change of government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after dissolution of the provincial assembly, he said, the program continued unaffected including in the tribal districts and the caretaker government had extended support by releasing funds for the project.
According to officials in the health department, approximately Rs10 billion SCP payments to the hospitals were outstanding on part of the State Life Insurance Company (SLIC) and the government had to release Rs 4 billion to the insurance company every month to clear the backlog and keep the program running.
He said the government pays Rs2.5 billion per month to SLIC to bear the expenses under SCP and the insurance company retains Rs 1.5 billion from the amount in lieu of the liabilities and pays rest to the hospitals. He said there was no shortage of funds as the caretaker government of the province has so far released Rs 4 billion to SLIC and the outstanding amount would be cleared by May this year, he hoped.
Ikhtair Wali Khan, the PML-N spokesperson and former MPA said that patients in KP had to wait for months to avail Sehat Card facilities, adding that former PTI government had neither made fully functional the regional health directorates for speedy resolution of financial and administrative issues of the employees of public sector hospitals nor improved healthcare services in respective districts to implement health reforms despite remaining in government for nearly 10 years.
He said medical teaching institutions (MTI) reforms act 2015 passed by the KP Assembly but deplored that the PTI government did not implement it fully in all public sector hospitals due to which the healthcare service delivery was adversely affected in the province.
Ikhtair Wali said that shortage of staff in the SCP program, delay in release of funds by the previous government and lack of kidney and liver transplantation services were causing problems for patients of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr Riaz Tanoli said in a recent meeting with the Chief Secretary that it was agreed that SCP program won’t be suspended despite financial constraints and the government would continue releasing payments for it in the patients’ interest. He said that Rs 30 billion per year was required for smooth functioning of the SCP, he informed.
However, the meeting directed the health department to strengthen the monitoring of hospitals to ensure provision of quality healthcare to the patients under the program and through mutual agreements with the hospitals.
“The SCP was protected under a Universal Health Coverage Act passed last year and could not be changed, suspended or closed unless reverted by the assembly,” he said.
The patients at LRH complained about long delays for their turns in case of major surgeries. “I have waited for several days for surgery of my eye under SCP,” said patient Yasir Khan, a resident of Taru Jabba Nowshera.
Admitted in Eye Ward of LRH, he said that most of the SCP patients were being treated by the junior doctors, adding the procedure to avail the treatment under the incentive was too lengthy and demanded simplification.
Dr Athar Khan, District Monitoring Officer, SCP Peshawar told APP that the patients’ burden increased in government hospitals for treatment after SCP under which 98 percent patients were being provided free treatment.
Except treatment of liver transplant, most of the medical and surgical facilities including kidney transplant were performed successfully in KP. However, he said the beneficiary had to visit Lahore for liver transplant. He explained that Rs 4,000,000 treatment were allowed to domicile holders of KP for treatment soon after being recommended for a surgery by the doctor and in case of expensive treatment more funds were provided.
Dr Raiz Tanoli said Rs 48,772 million were spent on treatment of 1,977,455 patients from January 2016 to December, 2022.