The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday (16th September) said that no hospital can refuse to admit a COVID-19 patient if beds for such patients are available and that this is one of the basic tenets of medical ethics.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee further observed,
"The primary object of a hospital, be it Government or Private, should be to render healthcare to those who are in need of it."
In fact, primarily two issues were raised by the petitioners in the Public Interest Litigation before the Court. Firstly, the issue was related to the disposal of the dead body of a COVID-19 victim, with due care, respect and dignity.
Another issue was related to the admission of COVID-19 patients (whether detected or suspected) to hospitals.
The first issue was fully covered by Court's Judgment delivered in WPA 5479 of 2020 (Vineet Ruia v. The Principal Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of W.B. & Ors.). This particular order was delivered on the same day i.e., on Wednesday (16th September).
Asserting that the Right to a decent funeral can also be traced in Article 25 of the Constitution of India, the Calcutta High Court in Vineet Ruia (supra) case ruled that the immediate family members of Covid-19 victims be permitted to perform the funeral rites of the deceased subject to them following certain precautionary guidelines to eliminate/minimize the risk of them becoming infected by the deadly virus which has caused devastation in the form of loss of countless lives across the world.
The grievance of the Petitioner
The grievance of the petitioners was that there was no way of knowing as to how many beds for Covid-19 patients are available in the State and Private Hospitals at any given point of time.
There is no database in this regard which a person in need may access. Further, the allegation is that in spite of beds being available, hospitals are refusing to admit Covid-19 patients.
The Submission of the State
The Counsel for the State apprised the Court that the State Government has created a database which can be accessed by anybody and which gives all requisite information regarding the availability of beds in the hospitals, admission of COVID-19 patients in the hospitals, discharge of such patients from the hospitals, etc.
The Counsel vehemently denied that there has been any case where any Government hospital has denied admission to a COVID-19 patient in spite of the availability of beds.
The Court remarked,
"The refusal on the part of a hospital to do so, without a valid reason, e.g., non-availability of beds will amount to a culpable breach of the fundamental duty of a medical institution."
Further, the Court said that in case the petitioners have a concrete instance of any hospital denying admission to a COVID-19 patient despite beds being available, the petitioners will be at liberty to draw the same to the notice of The West Bengal Health Regulatory Commission constituted under The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration & Regulation) Act, 2010, which has supervisory powers over the hospitals and medical institutions in the State.
"Upon such complaint being made, the said Commission may take action in accordance with the law against the erring hospital as it may think fit and proper", the Court concluded.
Case Title: Prithvijoy Das & Anr. v. State of West Bengal & Ors.
Case No.: WPA 6322 of 2020 - I.A. No. CAN/1/2020 (CAN 4851 of 2020)
Quorum: Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee
Appearance: Advocates Krishnendu Banerjee, Jaydeb Das, Biswajit Dutta and Rajkumar Gupta (for the Petitioners); AG Kishore Dutta and Advocate Sayan Sinha (for the State)
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