The suspension of free dialysis services in Bajaur, a tribal district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), has created a dire situation for over 400 registered needy patients suffering from kidney failure. The primary reason for this healthcare crisis is the halt of the Sehat Card program, which provided free medical treatment across the province.
The discontinuation of the Sehat Card program has significantly impacted healthcare services in the region. This decision came as a result of the removal of 94 hospitals from the panel of Sehat Card Plus, with only one private sector hospital in each district retained for free treatment.
The K-P health department cited financial constraints as the primary cause of this move, as well as concerns over inconsistent quality of care and a lack of essential facilities at certain hospitals.
While the Sehat Card Plus scheme was initially designed to offer free medical treatment, issues such as political affiliations influencing the inclusion of ill-equipped hospitals prompted the government to take action. As a result, a more stringent criterion will now be applied to maintain only hospitals meeting the requisite standards.
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Currently, due to the provincial government’s inability to clear dues to the State Life Insurance Company, only emergency, kidney dialysis, and cancer treatments are covered by the Sehat Card. However, once these financial obligations are met, it is expected that a wider range of treatment services will be restored.
Under the revised plan, each district in the province will have only one designated hospital for free treatment through the Sehat Card, primarily in government hospitals. A new set of rules and regulations, pending approval by the caretaker cabinet, will govern these changes.
This abrupt shift has not been without its challenges. The Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar, one of the largest public sector healthcare facilities in K-P, has faced shortages of medicines and blood tubes in its emergency department. The suspension of free treatment under the Sehat Card has placed additional strain on the healthcare system, leading to disputes between patients and hospital staff.
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Other hospitals, such as the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC), have also seen free treatments for heart diseases suspended due to a lack of funds, as the insurance company has ceased payments to hospitals, impacting their ability to purchase necessary medicines.
Despite these financial constraints, a spokesperson for LRH emphasized that patients continue to receive free treatment at the emergency department, and the treatment coverage under the Sehat Card will be reinstated as soon as funds are made available.
The financial crisis in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is primarily attributed to the non-payment of dues by the federal government, causing disruptions in healthcare services. In response to the crisis, the provincial government released Rs2 billion for the Sehat Card Plus scheme on October 21, following the suspension of insurance services for the sixth consecutive time.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th2023.