MUMBAI: Stressing that hospitals cannot hold back patients or bodies over non-payment of bills, the Bombay high court on Monday said that hospitals should forewarn patients and their kin of treatment costs or at least display treatment rates.
“There is practically no control over hospitals. That could be one reason why people vandalize hospitals. That (the violence) is not good,” said a division bench of Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode, referring to the destruction of Singhania Hospital in Thane in 2001 by a political leader’s supporters after his sudden death. The court was hearing two petitions over the alleged detention of a patient each by SevenHills Hospital in Marol and Prachin Healthcare Multi-Speciality Hospital in Panvel after disputes emerged over their medical bills. Advocate Diwakar Dwivedi, appearing in both cases, said the bills were inaccurate and exorbitant.
Government pleader Sandeep Shinde clarified that hospitals have no legal right to detain patients, though they can file suits to recover their money; even foreign courts, he said, have held that patients cannot be detained. Shinde noted that currently there is no mechanism to regulate hospitals over recovery of bills. Senior advocate V A Thorat, who was appearing for a diagnostic centre, affirmed that holding back a patient amounts to wrongful detention and constitutes an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
The bench decided to treat one of the petitions as a public interest litigation to address the larger issues so that directions can be given, guidelines framed and mechanism evolved to help hospitals recover their dues.
Pointing out that hospitals incur high expenses on medicines and other things, the court said, “We are only concerned about hospital’s high-handed behaviour. By and large, this is the complaint.” It observed that patients and their relatives are not made aware of the expenses, particularly in accident cases. “If he is taken to Lilavati, obviously the expenses will be high, it being a five-star hospital. If told in advance, the patient can be shifted to another hospital where the expenses are not so steep.” The bench remarked that most hospitals should ideally display their rates on boards. “There are doctors who do not visit the patient and yet charge them. It is practically a heart attack after being cured of other ailments.” Justice Kanade said that some people have to sell gold and valuables to pay their medical bills.
The court asked Medical Council of India’s advocate A L Gore if it has control over hospitals and how many doctors have been punished; Gore said the MCI will file a reply. Maharashtra Medical Council’s advocate Rahul Nerlekar however said, “It is our contention that we are entitled to take action against hospitals. But because of that stay order by high court (when the Maharashtra Medical Council took action against a diagnostic centre), we are awaiting clarification.”
The court on Monday issued a notice to the charity commissioner over the scheme requiring 10% of beds for poor patients. It also directed the Association of Hospitals to be served a private notice to appear before it.