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HomeIndiaMake Covid treatment affordable or lose licence: Gujarat High Court warns hospitals

Make Covid treatment affordable or lose licence: Gujarat High Court warns hospitals

The Gujarat High Court noted that private hospitals charging a steep fee were out of reach for most patients, and ordered the state to work out the modalities of the fee structure.

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New Delhi: The Covid-19 outbreak is a “critical war-like” situation and not a time to do business to earn profit, the Gujarat High Court said Friday last week as it directed the state government to regulate the “exorbitant fee” being charged by private hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

A bench of justices, including J.B. Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora, said the court will take appropriate legal action, including cancellation of license, if the hospitals “did not budge” and continued to “demand exorbitant amounts” despite a state directive.

The 14 May order came on a suo motu petition registered on 11 May to monitor the steps the state had taken to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. During the hearing, it was pointed out to the court how treatment fees for Covid-19 in private hospitals varied. The bench ordered the state to immediately resolve the issue and “work out the modalities with respect to the fee structure”.

The order also included directions to the police not to restrain persons in need of urgent medical treatment from visiting a doctor. “The police should exercise its discretion in this regard wisely and adopt a practical approach in this regard,” the bench said.

“If the private hospitals do not budge and are determined to demand an 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. We request the learned Advocate General to immediately look into this issue and see to it that the same is resolved at the earliest,” the bench warned.

Also read: Infections soar, high death rate, slow recoveries – Covid deals a deadly blow to Gujarat

Not a level field

The court further noted how private hospitals designated to treat coronavirus patients under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, followed government rates while the others raised excessive bills.

“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,” said the bench. The state was told to ensure an affordable level-playing field for all private hospitals.

It referred to “large-scale infections” in the state — Gujarat has already crossed 11,300 infections — to stress on the need for a regulated fee structure.

“This excessive charge in this critical war-like situation when humanity is fighting for survival is absolutely unjustified and deserves to be deprecated. 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,” the bench ruled.

The court will take up the matter again on 22 May. But before the next hearing, the court said, Gujarat must submit an affidavit with details of treatment being provided to Covid-19 patients. It should include whether serum potassium level test is conducted on patients, if quality check of the personal protection equipment supplied to doctors and nurses is undertaken, and whether a senior anaesthetist and critical care specialist remains in the intensive care unit round-the-clock.

Also read: Plague passport to detention — Epidemic Act was a medical surveillance tool in British India


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