Soon, patients dying or suffering at private hospitals and nursing homes in Bengal because of negligence or bad management will have to be financially compensated. And, health establishments will face penal action, ranging from criminal proceedings to cancellation of licence, if found guilty of negligence and extortion.
Taking a major step towards bringing private hospitals, nursing homes, maternity homes et al under strict government surveillance, the Bengal government placed the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017 at the Assembly on Friday and got it passed after a brief debate. “This bill will become the national model some day…. I had no intention to interfere in the business of private hospitals. But enough is enough. I couldn’t have taken this step without public support,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also in charge of the health department, said in her long reply to the debate.
Surprising the House, Banerjee said similar regulations would soon be introduced to stop private schools, colleges and universities from charging “excessive fee and donation” from students. “Educating our children and youth should be their only priority but I keep getting complaints,” she said, adding that she would meet heads of educational institutions after state and central board examinations are over.
The 25-page bill has introduced severe penalty - ranging from monetary compensation to proceedings under the Indian Penal Code and seizure of property - if patients suffer or die because of negligence or bad management or, forced to pay inflated bills. “Doctors and staff at state-run hospitals face action when they are at fault. The same should apply to their counterparts in private hospitals. If these institutions ask doctors to violate medical ethics they should put in their papers and join government hospitals,” said Banerjee.
“It is logical that the clinical establishments would levy fees and charges for the services. But such charges should be reasonable with the objective of covering the cost of provision of services besides generating a decent surplus. The government is of the view that health care services is not a commercial proposition; it is a service or ‘seva’ which should be delivered to service recipients with humility and human touch. Life is precious and there can be no monetary value attached to human health,” says the bill.
While meeting CEOs of Kolkata’s top private hospitals two weeks ago, Banerjee had promised that she would introduce a new bill and set up a regulatory body. The move was welcomed by millions across the state. On Friday, she mentioned in the House specific cases of negligence and extortion by private institutions and named Apollo Hospital in Kolkata several times in her speech. “When I was admitted at a nursing home, an MRI test showed my appendix though it had been removed years ago. I was shocked,” she said, refusing to name the establishment.
The existing West Bengal Clinical Establishment (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010, which was introduced by the erstwhile Left Front government would be repealed. “Your law stood neither here nor there. It was useless,” Banerjee told CPI(M) legislators who claimed that the new bill was nothing but a rehashed version of the old one.
The most salient feature of the new bill is formation of the West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission which will not only work as the watchdog body but will also address complaints from patients and order action against private institutions. Significantly, the bill says that the commission’s orders cannot be challenged in any civil court. “This is being done to establish accountability and transparency, to stop hospitals from shifting patients to ICU, ICCU and ventilation rooms purely to inflate bills. They have stopped treating patients as humans. The line is now being drawn,” said Banerjee.
The commission will be headed by an acting or former high court judge or acting or former chief secretary. Citizens will also have representatives among 12 other members. The commission has been given the power to slap fine of up to Rs 50 lakh if charges of negligence or malpractice are proved.
The bill has proposed compensation of at least Rs 10 lakh in case of deaths caused by negligence, Rs 5 lakh for major injury and Rs 3 lakh for not-so-severe injury.
No private establishment will be allowed to refuse treatment to victims of rape, acid attack accident and natural disaster, says the bill. Also, in cases like these, hospitals cannot ask for money during admission. The bill also states that treatment cannot be stopped if patients run out of money and in cases like these hospitals will have to bear the cost of life-saving drugs.
For diagnosed patients, hospitals will have to provide fixed monetary packages for treatment of specific disease or an operation and cannot charge more than what has been promised in the package. “I know that treatment can’t come free. But there has to some logic. Bills for pathological tests cannot run into lakhs. Hospitals will have to set up grievance cells to tackle complaints,” said Banerjee.
Interestingly, Rupali Basu, CEO of Apollo Hospital, one of the state’s biggest private establishments that is facing probe following the death of a patient, resigned on Thursday. The victim, 32-year-old Sanjay Roy, died at SSKM hospital on February 23 shortly after he was shifted there from Apollo where his family was forced to keep property deeds and fixed deposit certificates as “security” since they had no more money. The family alleged that Roy died because of the delay in his release. “Doctors at Apollo have informed me that their CEO has resigned. All’s well that ends well,” said the chief minister, mentioning the death of Roy and alleging that another patient at Apollo was charged Rs 24,000 for a drug that retails for Rs 10,000.
The government’s new bill also states that hospitals cannot stop dead bodies from being released under any circumstance. “I vividly remember how the body of an actor was not given to the family. I had to intervene,” said the chief minister.