The neighbourhood doctor running a clinic for decades wants to expand. He constructs a few more rooms, calls one of them an operation theatre, keeps the rest for inpatient care and puts up a board outside announcing it as his nursing home.
Stories like this one have played out across most Indian cities and towns for more than two decades; a feature of India’s burgeoning but largely unregulated healthcare services business. But they may soon be history.
The government has decided to ask Parliament to enact a law laying down minimum standards that hospitals, nursing homes and diagnostic centres will have to maintain to be entitled to stay in business. Existing establishments will, however, be given a grace period of a few years to raise their standards to the prescribed levels.
"The Union Cabinet gave its approval for introduction of the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill, 2007 in Parliament," PR Dasmunsi, Information and Broadcasting Minister announced after the meeting.
It will be mandatory for every clinical establishment to be registered with the government and stick to standards stipulated by an expert body to be set up under the proposed law. The standards would differ, depending on the category in which the establishment is placed and failure to meet the standards would make them liable to pay a fine.
The standards would be defined by the National Council of Standards – a body to be headed by the director general of health services and have representatives from medical bodies – will determine minimum standards for healthcare services, classify them in different categories and maintain national register of clinical establishments.
The legislation was initially aimed at regulating the private healthcare sector. It is estimated 50 per cent of people seeking indoor care and 60 to 70 per cent of those seeking outpatient care go to private health facilities. Despite their presence, information about the number, role, nature, structure, functioning, and quality of care in private establishments remains grossly inadequate.
Legislatures of three states – Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram – have, however, passed resolutions seeking a central law since health is a state subject. Other states would, accordingly, have to adopt the central legislation.
Nearly ten states already have legislations to regulate clinical establishments but most of them are either outdated or ineffective due to faulty drafting or implementation.