The Gujarat High Court on Thursday directed the state government to work out the modalities to see to it that all the private hospitals across Ahmedabad start operations amid the rising COVID-19 cases and further the government should regulate the fee chargeable by such private hospitals, emphasising that “these are difficult times and not the time to do business and earn profit”.
The high court also opined that if a person is ailing and requires immediate medical treatment, then the police should not restrain such a person from reaching a particular hospital or a clinic of a private doctor, in response to media reports.
Taking note of the fact that the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital as well as SVP Hospital — two major hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in Ahmedabad — have run out of beds and in a situation where only few private hospitals have extended a hand while charging patients and exorbitant fee, the court noted, that “private hospitals should not be permitted to demand exorbitant amount”.
The order by the division bench noted, “These are difficult times and not the time to do business and earn profit. The medical services are the most essential services and in times like the present one, the private hospitals cannot demand lakhs of rupees from a patient…Most of the private hospitals requisitioned by the State are also fast filling up…More private hospitals are required to be accorded permission and their rates should be regulated by the State Government for the purpose of COVID19 treatment…few private hospitals in the city of Ahmedabad are demanding exorbitant fees running in the lakhs of rupees for treating the Covid-19 patients. This excessive charge in this critical war like situation when humanity is fighting for survival is absolutely unjustified and deserves to be deprecated. This is creating an unequal situation for the private hospitals in the city. When so many are clamouring for treatment, the exorbitant rates appear inhumane. Except for the very rich and affluent class of people, such hospitals remain out of reach for most patients. The treatment for this pandemic in this hard times even if offered by any private hospital must be reasonable and affordable.”
Apart from directing the state for taking actions accordingly, the court also warned of legal action and “bitter consequences”.
“…if the private hospitals do not budge and are determined to demand exorbitant amount, then this Court will have to take appropriate legal action against such hospitals and the consequences may be quite bitter including cancellation of licence.”
Responding to news reports where those suffering from other medical ailments were stopped from visiting medical facilities, the state justified in its affidavit that the mentioned incident may have been a one-off incident.
The affidavit further stated, “…massive efforts are being made by the police authorities in assisting and supplementing the efforts of other authorities during this pandemic situation. Considering the endeavours of the authorities, there can be no intention to deliberately stop any person so as to cause any harm, per se. It has been witnessed by the authorities that many times, people visiting hospitals do not carry any records and the police officials have no way to check the genuineness of the claims made by such persons. Moreover, considering the prevalent situation and the rising number of cases each day, the police authorities have been extra vigilant in their attempts to prevent wilful defaulters of the guidelines of the lockdown, who not only put themselves at risk but others, as well.”
Further justifying the state’s efforts to get private clinics to open shop, the affidavit stated, “…private clinics operators have been requested to run their clinics for providing necessary medical assistance to the needy people. A decision has been taken by the authorities in this regard on 06.05.2020… All police officers of the DCP rank, are proactively contacting doctors, holding meetings and persuading them to open their hospitals so that people can avail medical facilities. The doctors are also being contacted via social media.”
The affidavit further said that “any such media report pointing out any shortcoming on part of the administration is being taken seriously and suitable instructions are being given at the supervisory level every now and then, for corrective measures…”
Taking note of the state’s submissions, the court order noted, “According to the report, if any citizen of the state has any other ailment and needs medical treatment, then they can avail such medical treatment at a private clinic or a private hospital. According to the report, the state government has directed all the medical practitioners to operate their clinics and attend to the patients. In short, it is the case of the state authorities that all necessary steps are being taken to ensure that the people at large do not have to suffer.
However, on the police action, the high court noted, “The police should exercise its discretion in this regard wisely and adopt a practical approach in this regard.”
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