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Health minister says the committee formed to study the proposal will now be dissolved 

Through a majority vote, the National Assembly (NA) yesterday decided to not corporatise the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu.

Opposition MP from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi, moved a motion recommending the government to stop corporatisation of JDWNRH with immediate effect. He said this is with due respect to the rights of the people of Bhutan as enshrined in the Constitution to provide free basic health services.

For the record: Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk talks about JDWNRH Corporatisation at the Meet the Press session on August 4, 2017

Nineteen of the 39 members present in the House voted ‘Yes’ to not to make JDWNRH a corporation while 15 voted ‘No’ and five abstained.

After the vote, Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that the House did not get the required vote of a simple majority to pass the motion. However, the Speaker later clarified that the motion to stop corporatisation of JDWNRH is passed based on majority vote.

Section 174 of the National Assembly Act states “except as otherwise prescribed by the Constitution and this Act, all questions proposed for decision of the House shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting”.

Despite discussions on corporatisation of JDWNRH and the opposition’s repeated appeal, MP Dorji Wangdi, said the government continued working on it.

“Corporatisation means commercialization,” he said adding that the government’s stand is that the hospital will bill the government per patient and the government will pay, not the patient. “But in due course of time, corporatisation will lead to privatisation. Eventually all public health facilities could land in private business hands.”

He said education and health services are considered one of the biggest social equalisers. The move to make the hospital a corporation, he said will have serious implications on the future well-being of the people and nation particularly affecting equitable access to public health services, good quality of life of the people and widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

“This is a flagrant violation of the several principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution and a highly noble, visionary and cherished policy of our successive monarchs to provide free health services and pursue the policy of equality in national governance,” MP Dorji Wangdi said.

He said the mandate for the state to provide free basic health services as enshrined in the Constitution should be timeless.

Since the current problem pertains to the retention of medical specialists, the opposition recommends the government to solve it through other organisational and financial measures.

“The opposition party strongly objects and opposes corporatisation of JDWNRH,” MP Dorji Wangdi said.

This is the fourth time the opposition raised the JDWNRH corporatisation issue.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk while acknowledging people’s concerns on the issue, stood his ground that the intention to explore corporatising JDWNRH is to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of health services and not just to provide an alternative system to sustain the pool of specialists.

“People are concerned because the opinions are misleding and misinformed,” Lyonpo said. “The initiative in no way intends to encourage commercialisation of services or levy charges to patients directly for basic public health services.”

Lyonpo reiterated that the government has not decided to change the status of the hospital into a corporate entity.

A committee was reconstituted in September this year to study and assess the possibility of corporatising the hospital. The committee is expected to complete the task by next month and the findings and recommendations of the study should be presented to the cabinet.

Lyonpo said if corporatisation of JDWNRH is causing concern to people, then the government will stop assessing the possibility of corporatising the hospital.

Speaking to Kuensel, Lyonpo said that if the opposition’s motion gets endorsed, the committee would be dissolved.

“The committee has started working. What I am requesting is to let the committee finish the work and submit the report to the cabinet. The cabinet can then give due consideration to what the National Assembly has decided,” Lyonpo said. “But the opposition leader wants voting to be done on their motion since they have submitted the motion.”

JDWNRH was granted autonomy in August 2014 and since then there have been many improvements in the health services, Lyonpo said. “The hospital currently has no autonomy in human resources and we felt that if more autonomy is given, then more services can be improved.”

He claimed that the hospital has introduced 18 new health services and is considering 19 more.

Explaining the achievements the health sector has made in ensuring that people are provided free health care services, Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, said the Move for Health initiative was stopped and Bhutan Health Trust Fund neglected since 2009. The ruling party re-started the initiative after forming the government.

Khar Yurung’s MP Zanglay Drukpa and former health minister responded saying he didn’t just warm his chair when he was serving as the health minister. MP Zanglay Drukpa said it’s not necessary to talk about who did what as the issue is on the corporatisation of JDWNRH. He said he did not announce the fund in 2008 for publicity. The yearly records of the funds are with the health ministry and the minster can check. “People are there to judge who did what.”

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk apologised saying he was only justifying his stand and did not intend to offend the former health minister and his teacher.

Dechen Tshomo

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