The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday, July 9, ruled that Delhi-based private hospitals which were given land at subsidised rates will have to provide free treatment to 25% Out Patient Department (OPD) and 10% Inpatient Department (IPD) patients belonging from the economically weaker sections (EWS). In doing so, the SC had reaffirmed the 2014 judgement by the Delhi High Court.
Four hospitals — Moolchand Hospital, St Stephen’s Hospital, Rockland Hospital and the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research — had approached the High Court in 2012 against orders issued by the Delhi government amending the provisions of the lease granted to the hospitals.
The SC said that any violation of this agreement between private hospitals and the government concerning the matter of how many beds have to be reserved for poor patients will not be tolerated and would be treated as contempt. The top court also noted that it would be monitoring the functioning of private hospitals and sought periodical reports from the Delhi government on the issue.
The ruling reinforces the vision enshrined in our constitution under the Directive Principles of state policy where Article 47 mentions the Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
In 2016, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi Government imposed a fine of Rs 700 crore on five private city hospitals for denying free treatment to poor patients. The five hospitals — Max Super Specialty Hospital (Saket), Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Shanti Mukand Hospital, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital and Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute — were given lands at concessional rates between 1960 and 1990. Among the five hospitals, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute had to pay the biggest sum of Rs 503 crore.
The argument made by the hospitals was that the government could not issue such orders since they had purchased the land at market rates and the original lease deeds for the land did not contain a clause for such free treatment.
Also, as reported by the Economic Times, most hospitals claim that treatments are too costly to be provided free, especially drugs, lab tests and surgical procedures. They had instead offered to provide consultancy services free of charge. A detailed judgement on the issue is still awaited.
While the judgement gentrifies the spirit of the constitution, it is important to consider the practical hindrances to its satisfactory execution. The hospitals could still create hurdles for the EWS patients by prioritizing treatment for other patients, or by lack of proper signboards informing them of the free service. The patients’ lives could be in danger if substandard equipment or drugs are utilized for the purpose.
There is also the issue of the profitability of the hospitals and repeated modifications to legislation. Subsequent changes to legislation in the past have drawn the ire of the business community because it creates an environment of unpredictability for them. Also, most leading businesses tend to reinvest their profits into Research and Development and a reduction in such funds could lead to India missing out on some cutting-edge medical technology and practices.
‘Charity-beds’ is a Delhi-based organisation. It is an effort led by a group of young individuals who are disturbed by the discrimination faced by the underprivileged at private hospitals in the city.
This was established five-years-ago by the President of the Oberoi Group, Kapil Chopra. He was inspired by his father Mr Ashok Chopra who was a doctor himself. Mr Ashok Chopra wanted to contribute to the medical welfare of the poor. After his demise, Kapil happened to read the judgement in the newspaper where the Supreme Court directed the hospitals to reserve 25% of the Outpatients Departments and 10% of beds for weaker sections of the society. Kapil decided to look into the matter and found out that most of the beds remain unoccupied. He started Charity Beds, an organisation that would be a liaison between poor and the hospitals.
If you know someone who needs help, you can reach out to ‘Charity Beds’ on the numbers published on their website. You can also volunteer with them. It is indeed sad that even today someone dies because they did not have money to get medical care. If you want to contribute to the cause you can visit their Facebook page.