Can’t expect poor patients to give proof for free COVID treatment: HC

The court was hearing a plea filed by seven residents of a slum rehabilitation building in Bandra, who had been charged ₹12.5 lakh by K J Somaiya Hospital for COVID-19 treatment

Maharashtra, Bombay High Court, coronavirus, COVID-19, private hospitals, treatment charges
On June 13, the court had directed the state charity commissioner to probe if the hospital had reserved 20 per cent beds for poor and indigent patients and provided free or subsidised treatment to them. Photo: PTI

The Bombay High Court observed that COVID-19 patients from poor and indigent sections cannot be expected to produce documentary proof to avail subsidised or free treatment while getting admitted to hospitals.

The court on Friday (June 26) was hearing a plea filed by seven residents of a slum rehabilitation building in Bandra, who had been charged ₹12.5 lakh by K J Somaiya Hospital for COVID-19 treatment between April 11 and April 28.

The bench of Justices Ramesh Dhanuka and Madhav Jamdar directed the hospital to deposit ₹10 lakh in the court.

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The petitioners had borrowed money and managed to pay ₹10 lakh out of ₹12.5 lakh that the hospital had demanded, after threatening to halt their discharge if they failed to clear the bill, counsel Vivek Shukla informed the court.

According to the plea, the petitioners were also overcharged for PPE kits and unused services.

Related news: Serological survey to begin in Delhi, Mumbai to determine COVID-19 spread

On June 13, the court had directed the state charity commissioner to probe if the hospital had reserved 20 per cent beds for poor and indigent patients and provided free or subsidised treatment to them.

Last week, the joint charity commissioner had informed the court that although the hospital had reserved such beds, it had treated only three poor or indigent persons since the lockdown.

It was unfathomable that the hospital that claimed to have reserved 90 beds for poor and indigent patients had treated only three such persons during the pandemic, advocate Shukla said.

He further argued that COVID-19 patients, who are in distress, cannot be expected to produce income certificate and such documents as proof. However, senior advocate Janak Dwarkadas, who represented the hospital, said the petitioners did not belong to economically weak or indigent categories and had not produced documents to prove the same.

A person who is suffering from a disease like COVID-19 cannot be expected to produce certificates from a tehsildar or social welfare officer before seeking admission in the hospital, the bench noted and asked the hospital to deposit ₹10 lakh in court within two weeks.

On Friday, the high court also directed the Maharashtra government and BMC to file affidavits stating what procedure was being followed at state and civic run hospitals for safe handling and disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik was hearing a petition filed by BJP MLA Ashish Shelar raising concerns over the manner in which coronavirus-infected bodies were being handled at the civic- run Sion Hospital in the metropolis.

Related news: 70 COVID-19 patients listed as ‘missing’ in Mumbai civic body records

The bench, on Friday, said instead of confining the matter only up to incidents mentioned by the petitioner that occurred in Sion Hospital, such concern may be extended to cover all government-run and civic hospitals in Maharashtra with regard to disposal and management of bodies of COVID-19 victims.

The court directed the state government as well as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to file their affidavits and posted the matter for further hearing on July 3.

Shelar, in his plea, sought a direction to the state government and civic authorities to immediately discontinue the practice of treating COVID-19 infected patients besides the bodies of those who have succumbed to the virus.

The petition pointed out to the court that there have been several videos of Sion Hospital which show bodies of COVID-19 victims kept on beds or on the ground in the same wards where other infected patients were being treated.

Shelar sought an inquiry in the incident as well as direction to the government and civic body to follow procedures laid down by the Centre and the World Health Organisation for safe handling and disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims.

(With inputs from agencies)

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