To protect private hospitals from vandalism, Bengal seeks to change law
In the wake of incidents of vandalism at private hospitals, allegedly by relatives of patients protesting exorbitant fees, the Trinamool Congress regime is amending the West Bengal Private Establishment Act, 1950, to control both charging of “excessive fees” and vandalism.
The amended law would provide for a committee to look into the fees charged by private hospitals for diagnostic tests and surgeries, a senior government official said. There are allegations that private hospitals put in the ICU even patients that do not need intensive care to inflate their bills.
According to data gathered by the state government, there are nearly 25,000 private hospitals in Bengal.
Under the amended law, if a patient or her relative files a complaint of excessive billing, the proposed committee would investigate and, if the complaint is found to be genuine, take “disciplinary action” against the hospital authorities. The “nature of disciplinary action” is yet to be worked out, the senior official said. Consultations are being held with health and legal experts after which the draft amendment bill would go to the Chief Minister's Office for final approval, the officer added.
Meanwhile, Sadhan Pande, the minister for consumer affairs, has said the doctors and hospital authorities must clearly explain the cost and possible outcomes of the treatment to every patient before admission.
Pande is meeting with CEOs of private hospitals on 22 February. And based on their views, the officer said, an action plan will be drafted on dealing with relatives of patients, especially those admitted in critical condition.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier urged private hospitals to be “more lenient and hear the views of patients' relatives and not harass them unnecessarily”.
She was speaking against the backdrop of vandalism at the CMRI Hospital in Kolkata on 14 February. Allegedly, the relatives of a patient who had died at the hospital committed vandalism after they were handed an “exorbitant bill”. The relatives have blamed the death on medical negligence but the hospital authorities maintain that the patient was admitted in a critical condition and she succumbed despite the best efforts of her doctors.
The same day, another private hospital in the city was vandalised by a group of people enraged by the death of their relative allegedly due to “negligence by the doctors”.
Responding to the proposal to amend the Private Establishment Act, CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty remarked, “How can this government take action against its own people? The people vandalising hospitals are criminals and some of them are members of the ruling party.”
In any case, he noted, the West Bengal Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2009, already empowers police to book people involved in destroying hospital property or assaulting doctors and other hospital staff under non-bailable sections.