Hospitals often keep hostage a patient or detain dead body for non-payment of its bills.

During covid19 pandemic one Mumbai Hospital bill of Rs.17 lakh was viral on social media.

In Madhya Pradesh 60years patient was tied to bed by hospital authorities  for non-payment of bill of small amount of Rs.10000/- approx..

Whether this is justified? What does  our law say?

Constitution of India under Article 21 guarantees its citizens right to personal liberty and prohibits any discrimination. It says, “Protection of life and personal liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” So if bill is unpaid one cannot detain body nor can traumatize a person who is patient in such inhuman way.

In Consumer Education & Research  vs Union Of India & Others 1995 AIR 922 ,Supreme Court held that, “right to health, medical aid to protect the health and vigour to a worker while in service or post retirement is a fundamental right under Article 21, read with Articles 39(e), 41, 43, 48A and all related Articles and fundamental human rights to make the life of the workman meaningful and purposeful with dignity of person.”

Right to Health:

Its not fundamental right but Directive Principles of State Policy part IV Article 39 to 43 deals with this aspect. Article 39 (e ) says about  health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength; and (f) provides that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

While Article 47 directs  State to act  raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. This includes Panchayats, Municipalities to endeavor under Article 243G.

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs Union of India 1984 AIR 802, 1984 SCR (2) 67 Supreme Court held that, Right to Health  is  the fundamental  right of every one in this country,  assured under  the  interpretation  given  to Article 21  by this  Court in Francis Mullen’s Case, to live with human  dignity, free  from exploitation.  This right to live with  human dignity enshrined in Article 21 derives its life breath  from the  Directive Principles  of State Policy and particularly  clauses (e)  and (f) of  Article  39    and Articles 41  and 42  and at  the least,  therefore, it must include protection  of the  health and strength of workers, men and  women, and  of the  tender age  of children against abuse, opportunities  and facilities for children to develop in a  healthy  manner  and  in conditions  of    freedom  and dignity, educational  facilities, just and humane conditions of  work   and maternity  relief.

High level Group Committee set up by Central Government in 2019 in its Report on page 21 para 1.2 observed that, unpinned by right to health, an effective health system is a core social institution, no less than a court system or a political system.

Bombay High Court in Association of Hospitals vs State of Maharashtra heard the PIL and have directed stake holders to file draft guidelines, however due to #Covid19 matter is pending for final disposal.

In the meantime  Central Government of  India has prepoared a draft guidelines which provides Right to get Discharge. A patient has the right to take discharge and cannot be detained in a hospital, on procedural grounds such as dispute in payment of hospital charges. Similarly, caretakers have the right to the dead body of a patient who had been treated in a hospital and the dead body cannot be detained on procedural grounds, including nonpayment/dispute regarding payment of hospital charges against wishes of the caretakers. It provides for 1) Prohibition of wrongful confinement under Sec. 340-342 of IPC. Statements of Mumbai High Court. 2) Consumer Protection Act 1986

Further, NHRC has recommended to the Government of India, all State Governments and administration of Union Territories to ensure the setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism for patients, as a component of their existing or emerging regulatory frameworks for clinical establishments, by making required modifications in rules, regulations and acts where required. Observance of patients’ rights and setting up of grievance.

Shruti Desai

24th November,2020