Bengaluru: Private clinics, hospitals shut to oppose law that could fix prices

Hindustan Times, Bengaluru | By, Bengaluru
Nov 16, 2017 10:15 PM IST

Doctors have hit the streets protesting changes in law that proposes cap on treatment costs, new dispute resolution authority, tough patents’ rights charter

An indefinite shutdown of out-patient services at private hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres was called off on Thursday after the chief minister agreed to listen to grievances against a Bill to regulate the sector.

People sit outside the closed Out-Patient Department (OPD) of KIMS hospital in Bengaluru.(Arijit Sen)
People sit outside the closed Out-Patient Department (OPD) of KIMS hospital in Bengaluru.(Arijit Sen)

Around 6,000 private establishments and doctors in the city had announced the shutdown OPDs, barring emergency services, in protest against the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which was set to be tabled in the ongoing session of the state Assembly in Belagavi.

Speaking to HT, Madan Gaekwad of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association, said the decision to call off the strike in Bengaluru was taken on the basis of the Karnataka High Court’s request for the issue to be solved through discussion. “As the chief minister has called us for a meeting on Friday in Belagavi we have decided to call off the strike,” he said.

The high court requested doctors to end the strike, asking the government and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to find a solution. Posting the matter for Friday morning, the bench of acting chief justice of the high court HG Ramesh and Dinesh Kumar said it was making a request based on “the interests of the people” and asked them to resolve the issue. Telling the counsel for IMA that doctors had a duty towards society, the bench asked them to look at the enormity of the problem.

The bill proposes higher penalties for unregistered establishments, starting a process to cap prices of treatment, a patients’ rights charter, and the formation of a new grievance redressal committee.

The provisions have been called draconian by the medical fraternity.

“Capping of prices is not a good thing in a market economy,” said renowned nephrologist and chairman of Manipal Hospital, Dr Sudarshan Ballal.

Dr Ballal also called the patients’ rights charter unfair. “Patients’ rights should be the same whether it is private or government hospitals,” he said.

“We have to balance the convenience costs of patients with the future of the sector.”

Dr Devi Shetty, founder and chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya, said the Bill was an attack on the fraternity. “The honour and prestige of the medical fraternity will be affected if the Bill is passed,” Dr Shetty said.

He said there were already about six forums for grievance redressal and another was not necessary.

Affordable healthcare in India has largely been the domain of the government that heavily subsidizes hospitals and clinics. Access to private facilities is largely a reserve of people with greater income in a country where millions live in poverty.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah appealed to the doctors in a series of tweets to end their protest. “I met a group of doctors at Belagavi & assured them that govt will hear them before the KPME Bill is introduced again. I appealed to them to withdraw their strike. Yet, the strike is ongoing & continues to put people to inconvenience.”

Siddaramaiah said the government was only amending the existing Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007 in public interest to provide for a grievance redressal mechanism, price control and a patients’ charter.

“When the Bill is not introduced, when we are willing to talk to stakeholders, I am surprised by the unilateral decision of IMA to continue the strike [and] disrupt healthcare services. Once again, I request IMA to show responsibility, be true to the noble profession & talk to us,” Siddaramaiah said.

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