West Bengal moves to regulate private hospitals after Apollo excesses

Days after the harassed widow of a dead patient filed a police complaint against Kolkata's Apollo Gleneagles Hospital for trying to extract Rs7 lakh from her after causing the death of her husband by medical negligence, the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal drafted a bill for setting up a regulatory commission for private hospitals in the state with powers to fix rates and charges for treatment.

The bill proposes to set up a regulatory commission with powers to order cancellation of licence, closure of the clinical establishment and forfeiture of property in case a private hospital is found guilty of causing grievous injury or death.

Violations of registration and licence conditions can invite imprisonment of up to th­r­­ee years. Health officials described this as ''unprecedented power given to any such health body''.

The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017, is likely to be tabled in the assembly tomorrow.

The bill has been necessitated by recent events at the Apollo Gleneagles Hospital where the president and CEO has been accused of fleecing a dead patient's widow to such an extent that chief minister Mamata Banerjee had to intervene.

The young widow, Ruby Roy, had, on 26 February, filed a police complaint against Apollo Gleneagles Hospital accusing the hospital of medical negligence and pressure for payments after causing her husband's death on 24 February.

For an eight-day stay, the hospital allegedly charged more than Rs7 lakh. When the family wanted to shift him to the government-run SSKM hospital, Apollo would not let him go till the full bill was paid.

Dr Rupali Basu, president and CEO of Apollo Gleneagles Hospital was forced to resign a day before the chief minister introduces a new bill in assembly laying down the law for private hospitals.

The draft bill proposes to set up a commission whose orders apparently can't be stayed or challenged in court.

The draft proposes to slap penalties on private healthcare units if there is deficiency or negligence in treatment. The commission will have the power to award compensation of up to Rs50 lakh.

"(The commission will) make regulations with regard to fixing of rates or charges for indoor patient department and outdoor patient department treatment, including diagnostics, and also to ensure compliance with fixed rates and charges by clinical establishments," the draft bill states.

"Every clinical establishment shall strictly follow the fixed rates and charges including the package rates for investigation, bed charges, operation theatre procedures, intensive care, ventilation, implants, consultation and similar tests and procedures, and any additional treatment or procedure shall not attract additional charges over and above such fixed rates and charges including the package rates," it adds.

The commission will be headed by a person, who is or has been a high court judge or any officer who has held the office of chief secretary or additional chief secretary in the state government or any officer who has held an equivalent post in the government of India.

The vice-chairperson will be a person of eminence appointed by the state government. The number of members will not exceed 11 and will be appointed by the state government, selected from the fields of medicine, public health, academia, social services, law, finance, public administration, nursing and consumer interests.

Most private hospitals, however, are against the state government's move, but are awaiting to see how the commission went about fixing charges.

"A nursing home in the suburbs with basic facilities charges Rs6,000 a day for an intensive care unit bed, almost like a private hospital in the heart of Calcutta. The gradation will make it simpler to fix treatment costs according to infrastructure, quality of nurses and other factors," said an official.

According to the draft, the commission can undertake planned and surprise inspections "to examine and ascertain strict compliance by clinical establishments with provisions of the act".

The commission's order cannot be challenged in a civil court. This suggests appeals will have to be filed in the high court, lawyers said.

There already exists some court mandated dos and don'ts for hospitals, especially in cases of treating victims of road accidents, acid attacks or rape and persons suffering from sudden calamities.

In cases where the patient is unable to pay the cost, the new bill states that the hospitals will be allowed to recover the cost "in due course."

The bill also proposes that every private hospital with a minimum of 100 beds will have to set up fair price medicine shops and diagnostic centres for people who are not financially sound.

At a meeting with representatives of Kolkata's private hospitals on 22 February, the chief minister had announced that the existing Clinical Establishments Act would be replaced and stronger provisions for punishment incorporated in the new law. At the meeting, Mamata had referred to a series of allegations against private hospitals, from over-charging to negligence.