The private health sector in India is generally unregulated. Maharashtra is among the few states which require registration of private hospitals. This paper reports on a study of standards of care in small, private hospitals (less than 30 beds) in Maharashtra state, India, with a focus on maternity care, based on interviews with the hospitals' owners or senior staff, and observation. In the absence of reliable information on the number of private hospitals in the state, a physical listing was carried out in 11 districts and an estimate drawn up; 10% of hospitals found in each location were included in the study sample. We found poor standards of care in many cases, and few or no qualified nurses or a duty medical officer in attendance. Of the 261 hospitals visited, 146 provided maternity services yet 137 did not have a qualified midwife, and though most claimed they provided emergency care, including caesarean section, only three had a blood bank and eight had an ambulance. Government plans to promote public-private partnerships with such hospitals, including for maternity services, create concern, given our findings. The need to enforce existing regulations and collect information on health outcomes and quality of care before the state involves these hospitals further in provision of maternity care is called for.
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