By William J. Furney
The petite, rotund and effervescent Indian doctor standing in front of me is gushing about how much cheaper she is for coronavirus travel tests than the local, private hospital. She gasps when I tell her I paid €140 for a PCR test there in January, for travel to Turkey, and gushes that she charges just €90 — still pricey for a quick test but a saving of €50 and, unlike the faraway hospital, she’s nearby.
I had been cycling past what I thought was a pharmacy in Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria, sometime in May when I saw “PCR Tests” plastered all over its exterior (image above), and went in to investigate. Inside I encountered a wiry Indian man who directed me to a small room off to the side, where Dr Deepa Serai was standing by a desk. She seemed immediately delighted to see me, and talked gun-fire rapidly about her services, including other tests she does, for general health.
The overly friendly doctor gave me her card, and I wrote her €90 fee on it and went home.
Several weeks later, I messaged Dr Serai, via WhatsApp, to say my daughter, who was visiting, needed a PCR test before returning to the UK. We arranged a time for the swift swab, and several times I asked her to confirm her fee, but she didn’t answer.
I thought no more of it and gave Wallis my debit card to pay, as I didn’t have cash to give her, mostly due to generally not using paper money. And in this time of pandemic, card is preferred over grubby, germ-laden cash anyway.
Only Dr Deepa didn’t accept cards.
And didn’t charge what she had told me.
Instead she told my daughter the cost was an astounding €165, and asked her to go to an ATM and get cash, which is what Wallis did.
Even the smallest businesses take cards — you can even swipe them using your phone and an app — and here was a pharmacy and a doctor’s office only taking cash payments. The tax office might surely have an interest.
When Wallis arrived home and told me what happened — “It was a bit of a palaver” — I messaged the doctor to ask why she had so drastically overcharged. This triggered several calls from Dr Deepa, during which she told me she “never said €90”; tried to make out it was more expensive because the results were the same day, when she had told me they would be, as is usual with other clinics and labs; and she even said the test was higher-priced because she’d had to drive to the clinic that morning.
Her litany of limp reasoning extend to having also “provided a prescription” with the test result that did not require a prescription. And she became irate when I suggested she might be using deceptive techniques to get more money.
Dr Deepa promised to speak to the lab, to see if the results could be the next day, and therefore not so expensive, and would call back. She never did call, and she ignored subsequent messages from me asking how much she actually charges for PCR tests. (I later asked a friend to message her and ask what her PCR test fee is, but she also refused to say.)
A week or so later I discussed the doctor and her deceptive ways with a lawyer I know in the island’s capital, Las Palmas, and he suggested sending a legal document asking her to refund me the difference in what she had told me in her office and later charged my daughter, or face action. I agreed, as she was clearly ripping people off, and I was keen to ensure she wasn’t getting away with it, at least with me — even if it cost me a lot more in legal fees. I’d been discussing what happened with several Indian people here — a small community of Indians in Gran Canaria — and they were appalled that someone from their homeland could behave in such a despicable way.
The legal warning was sent, along with my bank account details, for a refund, and Dr Deepa’s signature was on the registered-mail slip that the post office provided.
Some weeks later, late on a Saturday afternoon, I was again cycling past Dr Deepa’s clinic when I saw her outside, with her husband and an elderly man whom I took to be a patient. I stopped and said hello, and she looked at me. “Do you remember me?” I asked. She took a moment and said she did. She finished her chat with the patient and came over.
“Did you get my lawyer’s letter?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
“Well, I want the extra money you charged me back,” I said.
“You’re not getting a penny,” she spat with vitriol.
I asked her if she’d seen all the terrible reviews online about her, and she said that was not her concern. I said that in the public interest, I would be writing an article about this.
“Write 100 articles,” her husband piped up, “one for every day of the year!”
Perhaps the short, little man who runs a parafarma — a fake pharmacy that sells herbal remedies only but, in a kind of hoodwinking way, resembles the real thing — needs an update on the totality of Earth years and the weeks in them.
The pair of them began shouting at me and I said no more and cycled on.
Those online testimonials appear on Google reviews for Dr Deepa’s Diamond Clinic International, which appears to have a main clinic in a town up the coast. One, by a Lina Antara, reads:
“IT’S A SCAM, avoid at any cost!!! We needed two rapid tests and one PCR test to be able to travel out of Gran Canaria. I checked the list of clinics authorised by the Canary government and had the bad luck to call the number of this ‘doctor’.”
She said Dr Deepa had told her the cost but then charged far more, including for her travel — and following arguments with her she paid but Dr Deepa refused to give her the test results.
“This clinic should have their license revoked and should definitely not be included in the Canary government’s list of authorized clinics!”
Another review alleged that Dr Deepa is “black-listed from almost every insurance company out there” and “charged a Norwegian man €5,000 for a treatment that cost €12 in Norway. Stay away!!!”
Others were similarly scathing.
Weeks went by since sending the legal letter to Dr Deepa, and there was no reply. This week my lawyer was preparing to make an official complaint about her deceptive and unethical behaviour to the island’s medical authority, the Colegio de Médicos, which is responsible for granting licences to doctors, when he had a call from Dr Deepa’s lawyer.
“He advised her to refund your money because you are in the right,” my lawyer told me.
Hopefully this conning medic will think twice before trying to dupe people again.
- Main image, of Dr Deepa Serai’s clinic in Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria, is by William J. Furney.