The Gujarat High Court on Friday emphasized that private medical institutions are also expected to "rise to the occasion" in these times of crisis and it directed the State Government to keep a close watch on all the designated private hospitals to ensure that these institutions do not exploit the Covid patients.
"In times of crisis when people are dying, the Association should not think of even making profit of one rupee. The private hospitals have the adequate infrastructure and materials and financial resources required to fight this pandemic. All the hospitals whether private or public are considered moral agent and hence have a moral responsibility. The responsibility to act in certain ways falls upon those who may make up these hospitals," the bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala observed.
The remarks were made as a clarification to the court's previous order in a suo moto case registered to address the issues related to Covid crisis.
On May 14, the High Court restrained the private hospitals from demanding "exorbitant fees" and observed that strict action will be taken against those found to be in violation of the order, including cancellation of licence.
"Not The Time To Do Business And Earn Profit":Gujarat HC Directs Pvt Hospitals To Adopt Govt. Specified Rates, Lest License Be Cancelled
When the matter was heard on Friday, the Ahmedabad Medical Association expressed distress over the use of words "exorbitant fees".
It was submitted that the private hospitals had already reduce their rates by 30% and the fees being charged as on date could not be termed as "exorbitant".
Clarifying this aspect of its order the bench said,
"what the Court wanted to convey is that all the citizens of this city may not be able to afford the fees of the private / corporate hospitals. If the Civil Hospital and the S.V.P. Hospital is not able to accommodate any particular patient, then there is no other option for such patient, but to go a private hospital, and at that point of time, his financial constraints should not come in his way for the purpose of getting himself medically treated. The right to health is a fundamental right and it is for the State to ensure that such right of its citizen is not infringed in any manner.
…but for the crisis, we are facing as on date, we would not have interfered with the functioning and administration of any private/ corporate hospitals. However, the situation, as on date, is such that the State Government had no other option, but to designate all private/ corporate hospitals for the purpose of treating the COVID-19 patients."
The Court also took note of the fact that that the private / corporate hospitals agreed to reduce their rates by 30% and now they further agree to reduce by 10% for the private beds (B category) for Ward and HDU and 5% for : (1) isolation + ICU and (2) ventilation + isolation + ICU.
In the order dated May 14 the High Court had also restrained Private hospitals from demanding admission fees in advance and directed that the patients be asked to only give details of their Aadhar card and PAN card and if later found from the PAN card details that the patient was capable of making payments then the amount can be accordingly recovered.
The Court has now modified this part of its order and has clarified,
"if any patient is referred by the Civil Hospital or the S.V.P. Hospital to any private / corporate hospital, then there shall be no predeposit, but, if any patient directly comes to the private / corporate hospital for being treated for COVID-19, then in such circumstances, it shall be open for the concerned hospital to demand for a reasonable predeposit and thereafter, raise the demand in phases as and when need arises."
However the bench has cautioned that no person should be denied treatment because of financial constraint.
"It should not happen that because of the financial constraint, the patient remains without any adequate medical treatment. If such a thing occurs, then that would be the worst scenario. As we said the medical fraternity in these times of crisis is expected to rise to the occasion. Medicine is a humanitarian profession. The hospitals and other health care facilities play a critical role in national and legal response to the emergencies such as the one we are facing today."
The modification was made after the Private hospitals pointed out that they have to bear a lot of expenses for running the hospital and also for the purpose of providing best of the treatment to its patients.
Lastly, based on the submissions made by some opposing counsels that the private hospitals were continuously harassing patients for the purpose of treatment, the bench has asked such counsels to place sufficient material on record indicating any particular instance of violation, to enable the court to take strict action against such erring hospital.
"The learned counsel submitted that there are many instances and they would collect the materials in this regard and place it on record of this case and also hand over one set of such materials to the learned Advocate General so that necessary instructions can be taken in that regard. All the learned counsel appearing in this litigation are permitted to place such materials on record without any hesitation. We may only say that the materials should be cogent, convincing and trustworthy. If we find such materials to be cogent, convincing and trustworthy, then we assure that we would take stern action against such private / corporate hospitals," the order states.
The Court also warned that strict action will be initiated if private hospitals are found to be exploiting the crisis
"We make it once again clear that in future, if it is brought to our notice that a particular private / corporate hospital is exploiting the situation and is not adhering to the terms and conditions of the Memorandum of Understanding or is engaged in the act of profiteering, then we shall come down very heavily on such hospitals and we will not hesitate to ask the State Government to institute appropriate legal proceedings against such hospitals in accordance with law".
Also read the following aspects of the order:
Don't Politicize COVID-19 Crisis; Simply Highlighting Flaws Of State Will Only Create Fear In Minds Of People : Gujarat HC
Case Title: Suo Moto v. State of Gujarat
Case No.: WP PIL No. 42/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala
Appearance: Senior Advocate Soparkar with Advocate Amit Panchal (for Ahmedabad Medical Association); Advocates Yatin Oza, Anshin Desai and Brijesh Trivedi (for Respondents)
Click Here To Download Order