The Supreme Court
recently criticized Delhi's big private hospitals for their exorbitant charges
and said that they are acting like star hotels, besides not keeping their
promise of treating the poor - free of cost.
A bench comprising of Justices R V Raveendran and A K Patnaik said, "You got the land at a very cheap rate from the government because of this promise. If you admit a poor patient but ask him to pay for everything, it is not free treatment."
They gave the hospitals two weeks to come up with a comprehensive plan to give the poor and middle class people free, but effective treatment.
The apex court stayed the Delhi HC's order but it warned that it would cancel the stay if the hospitals failed to meet the two-week deadline to submit their plan.
Mukul Rohatgi, counsel for the hospitals, said that the cost of treatment and medicines have skyrocketed and that most hospitals would go out of business if the poor were given free treatment.
The court brushed aside the argument put forward by the counsel for big hospitals. "It is not a hotel that your doctor will come, just say hello to the patient and then charge for everything. What is the fun in admitting poor patients in free beds and charging them exorbitant money. They are not beggars. They are entitled to free treatment as it is their land which has been given to you," the bench remarked.
Schools and private hospitals in Delhi are provided with public land at cheap prices, under the condition that one-fourth of beds and seats would be ear-marked for the economically -challenged. However the beneficiaries have failed to keep their promises
The steep fees of the private hospitals drew sharp remarks -- "Do you know the price difference between a government hospital and a private hospital even for a CT scan? Unless you have a charitable attitude, the medical treatment will be meaningless. It is happening in educational sector. Everything is done only for commercial gains, nothing for charity," the judges remarked.
"We can understand some very costly treatment being subsidized for poor patients. But, how can you charge for basic treatments. How can you ask for money from poor patients for x-ray, CT scan and blood tests? These basic treatments must be given free of cost otherwise the free bed concept will be meaningless," the judges observed.
Dharamshila Hospital, a super specialty cancer hospital in Delhi, which is one of the petitioners, had earlier said that it was not possible to give free drugs and disposables to 25% of the OPD and 10% of the indoor patients as has been directed by the Delhi HC. While pleading its case the hospital remarked that "even government hospitals like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are not providing free medicines and consumables."
Dharamshila's counsel remarked that if forced, the super specialty hospital would have no choice but to shut down its services completely.
The court was not unconvinced by the private hospitals' counter arguments and has posted the case for further hearing on July 25.
Other private hospitals which challenged the Delhi HC and moved the apex court against the HC order included Jaipur Golden Hospital, Escorts Heart Institute, Bhagwati Hospital, Balaji Action Medical Institute, Devki Devi Foundation, Deepak Memorial Hospital and Sunder Lal Jain Hospital.