Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Private hospitals are not hotels to charge exorbitantly: SC

NEW DELHI: Criticizing the Delhi's big private hospitals for their steep charges, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that they are acting like star hotels and have not kept their promise to treat the poor -- 25% outdoor and 10% indoor -- free of cost.

"You got the land at a very cheap rate from the government because of this promise. If you admit a poor patient but ask him to pay for everything, it is not free treatment," said a bench comprising Justices R V Raveendran and A K Patnaik as it gave the hospitals two weeks to prepare a comprehensive plan to give effective free treatment.

The hospitals had moved the Supreme Court against the order of the Delhi High Court directing them to fulfill their promise to provide free treatment to poor. The apex court which had stayed the HC order warned that it would withdraw the freeze if the hospitals failed to meet the two-week deadline to submit their free treatment plan.

The court brushed aside the argument put forward by the counsel for big hospitals Mukul Rohatgi that given the high cost of treatment and medicines, most of hospitals would be out of business if the poor patients were to be given everything free of cost.

"It is not a hotel that your doctor will come, just say hello to the patient and then charge for everything. What is the fun in admitting poor patients in free beds and charging him exorbitant money. They are not beggars. They are entitled to free treatment as it is their land which has been given to you," the bench said.

The outrageous fees of the private hospitals also came in for sharp remarks from the court. The bench said: "Do you know the price difference between a government hospital and a private hospital even for a CT scan? Unless you have a charitable attitude, the medical treatment will be meaningless. It is happening in educational sector. Everything is done only for commercial gains, nothing for charity."

In Delhi, private hospitals and schools are provided public land at cheaper rates on the condition that they would earmark one-fourth of beds and seats for economically weaker sections. The promise is seldom kept by the beneficiaries of the scheme, it is alleged.

The court was not unconvinced by the case put up by private hospitals.

"We can understand some very costly treatment being subsidised for poor patients. But, how can you charge for basic treatments. How can you ask for money from poor patients for x-ray, CT scan and blood tests? These basic treatments must be given free of cost otherwise the free bed concept will be meaningless," the bench said. It posted the matter for further hearing on July 25.

One of the petitioners -- Dharamshila Hospital, a super specialty cancer hospital in Delhi -- had said that it was impossible to give free drugs and disposables to 25% of the OPD and 10% of the indoor patients as directed by the Delhi HC, which had passed the order on a PIL by advocate Ashok Aggarwal-headed NGO Social Jurist.

"Even government hospitals like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are not providing free medicines and consumables," it had said while pleading that if such a condition was insisted upon the super speciality hospital would have no option but to close down its services.

Other hospitals which had moved the apex court against the HC order included Jaipur Golden Hospital, Escorts Heart Institute, Bhagwati Hospital, Balaji Action Medical Institute, Devki Devi Foundation, Deepak Memorial Hospital and Sunder Lal Jain Hospital.

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