Instead of being shut down by authorities, private hospitals should be told to compensate coronavirus patients if they have charged them in excess during treatment, the Bombay High Court suggested Thursday.
The court also suggested that Maharashtra could form a redressal or regulatory mechanism through a commission, on the lines of West Bengal government, to effectively redress grievances of overcharging by hospitals.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni made the observations while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Abhijeet Mangade, which stated that some private hospitals were overcharging patients – admitted for treatment of both Covid-19 and other ailments – for ancillary items, including PPE kits, gloves and N95 masks.
Mangade sought prices of PPE kits be capped and informed the court that though the state government had assured it and issued a notification to prevent hospitals from overcharging patients, absence of a redressal mechanism had made such guarantees insufficient.
“The state (West Bengal) where I come from had constituted a commission headed by a retired judge of the high court before the pandemic. It had specialist doctors from various fields and has done a good job in providing redress to grievances of patients,” Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said and suggested the Maharashtra government should consider a similar remedy in the state.
CJ Datta said mere entrustment of duty to administrative officers may not have that teeth and the state government can consider similar solutions.
The bench observed some hospitals were flouting notifications and the state government had the power to revoke their licences and registration. However, in view of the pandemic, the court said, closing them down would not be a viable option due to a paucity of medical facilities. Instead “asking hospitals to compensate patients could be appropriate”, the court said. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and if hospitals are not following notifications, they can be asked to compensate the aggrieved patient,” Justice Kulkarni said.
The court asked Mangade to file a fresh plea seeking inclusion of PPE kits under the Essential Commodities Act and reliefs under Epidemic Diseases Act and disposed of the present plea stating that the detailed reasons would be given in the order.
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