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Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has directed all private hospitals across Maharashtra to display a board clearly outside their pharmacies stating there was no compulsion to buy medicines from their medical stores and that patients were free to get medicines from drug shops outside their premises. The directive has brought relief to scores of patients and their relatives who seek treatment at private hospitals.

"We have issued the directive in the wake of several complaints from Pune, Mumbai and other cities where patients were compelled by hospitals to purchase medicines only from their pharmacies," said state FDA commissioner Harshadeep Kamble.

In Pune, FDA officials have already communicated the directives to private hospitals.

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"Most hospitals have already complied in Pune by putting up display boards at conspicuous locations. We are ensuring its strict implementation. Those who are yet to follow suit are being reminded about the directive. There has been no resistance to the move so far," said S T Patil, joint commissioner (drugs), FDA, Pune division.

Big city hospitals justify their act in the name of safety and quality of drugs given to the patient. "Asking patients to buy medicines from in-house pharmacy is mainly to ensure patient safety. Who will ensure that the medicines brought from other stores are not spurious or sub standard? Besides, there are some medicines which have to be maintained at certain temperatures only. Due to storage constraints, we play it safe by telling patients to buy medicines from in-house pharmacy as we are aware of the storage facility ," said a medical director of a reputed hospital in Pune. When contacted, Bomi Bhote, chief executive officer (CEO) of Ruby Hall Clinic said, "There have been no compulsions on patients for purchasing medicines from our in-house pharmacy ."

"Hospitals justify this compulsion by saying if the medicine is ineffective, patients blame them. However, this is a misleading argument because a medicine may not work effectively for a number of reasons. The real reason for this compulsion is that the purchase price of many medicines is very low for hospitals. But hospitals charge the patients as per the MRP to earn huge margin," said senior health activist Anant Phadke.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has in the past also issued a directive to all city hospitals asking them to put a board in their pharmacy stating that patients can buy medicines from other medical stores too.

"The Jan Aarogy Abhiyaan demands that the FDA and civic body should take action against hospitals who have not complied with this directive. The Maharashtra Clinical Establishment Act contains the right to choose a pharmacy and other patient's rights, but the draft is gathering dust in the Mantralaya.The legislation should be implemented without further delay ," Phadke said.
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