The Bombay High Court on Friday said every member of the public must be made aware that it is “illegal” for private hospitals to detain patients till bills are cleared. The observations came while a bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) following two cases where patients had been detained over disputed bills. “It is unfortunate that the public seems compelled to approach courts to complain of inaction on part of the government. How can a hospital detain a person on the ground of non-payment of fees? Such a hospital is curtailing the personal liberty of a person. There are existing laws that permit affected persons to approach the police and seek action against the hospital,” it said.
A bench of Justice S C Dharamadhikari and Justice Bharati Dangre directed the state’s health department to inform people through its websites what the legal rights of such patients are and penal provisions that can be invoked against errant hospitals.
The bench, however, refused to issue any specific order against hospitals saying that such intervention was under the jurisdiction of the state government.
“We can’t commit a judicial overreach by issuing regulations on the issue. However, we must make it clear that we are sympathetic to the issue and it’s unfortunate that the state has failed to take any action against such hospitals,” the bench said. “Every member of the public must be made aware that such action on part of a hospital is illegal.” The bench also said it was important that the state government formulates a mechanism to protect such patients and their families.