SC asked to stop privatization of orthopedic hospital

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Monday, February 3, 2014

INDIGENT patients and health professionals asked the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday to stop the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) in Quezon City, saying poor Filipinos will be bled dry for commercial fees.

They said the government has abandoned its duty to provide and ensure a basic social service such as health to private entity at the expense of the poor and underprivileged.

The petition, which called for the issuance of a preliminary injunction, also assailed the use of the Build Operate Transfer (BOT) law to privatize health services, instead of limiting it to the construction or rehabilitation of hospitals and facilities.

“Providing health service to the people, especially the poor and vulnerable is one of the fundamental functions of government. This function should not be subject to the profit motive and other influences but should remain a core public function, responsive to the democratic principles and accountable to public officials,” the petition stated.

POC is the country‘s only hospital specializing in orthopedic disorders including cases of spinal cord injuries. It is being privatized as part of President Benigno Aquino III’s Private Public Partnership (PPP) project of funding even social services.

Megawide-World Citi Consortium bagged the P5.6-billion concession agreement last December.

The consortium will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 700-bed facility in the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) compound along East Avenue, Quezon City until the end of the 25-year concession period, and then transfer the management to the Department of Health (DOH).

Under the winning bid, petitioners said the “modernized” POC is allowed to allocate only 70 beds (10 percent capacity) for service (indigent) patients and 420 for sponsored (PhilHealth) patients – compared to the current 562 beds or 85 percent capacity for indigent patients.

The petitioners said this is violation of Republic Act 1939, which mandates government hospitals like the POC to allot not less than 90 percent of its bed capacity as free or charity beds.

The new management would have an option not to accommodate non-paying patients if the 70 beds are already occupied, based on the bid bulletin issued by the DOH.

Emergency room and out-patient services will no longer be free for indigent patients.

On average, think tank Ibon Foundation said the cost of treatment in a private health facility is almost three times (273 percent) that in a public hospital and of confinement almost 50 percent more (145 percent).

“In short, a privatized POC, which for years has been accepting and treating patients regardless of their ability to pay or whether they have PhilHealth or not, will be turning away patients, specifically, the indigent ones, if not lock out even those who are already presently confined,” the petition read.

POC employees also face the possibility of losing their jobs, according to the petitioners.

The contract makes the workforce private, such that those who wish to remain in government service have to transfer to another DOH hospital. Those who choose to stay at POC are not assured that they will be absorbed.

“The privatization of POC, with respect to its employees, will result in unconsented transfer/reassignment of its present employees which is tantamount to constructive dismissal. This violates constitutional provisions that guarantee security of tenure,” the petition stated.

Named respondents in the petition filed by several groups such as the People’s Health Movement, Head Alliance for Democracy (Head) and congressmen from Bayan Muna and Kabataan party-list were President Benigno Aquino III, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and the Megawide- World Citi Consortium, among others. (Sunnex)

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