Whether Hospitals can detain patients for non- payment of the bill

In India public health care system is being divided into public and private sector. Private sector with respect to medical field is increasing rapidly and there is no proper mechanism for regulation or required provision for standard of care. The poor quality of care, over-hospitalization, unlimited prescription of medicines, absence of standardisation of fee structures and above all of this patient does not get the satisfactory treatment for the amount which patient pays to their doctors. Along with these drawbacks of the hospitals in India, there is another brutal truth of Indian medical field. There are instances where doctors have crossed their limits and detained their patients in order to recover unpaid bills.

The recent incident which took place in Madhya Pradesh was dreadful. The private hospital had tied an old man to bed just because the family failed to pay the bills of the hospital.  After the attention was driven by the social media, local authority stepped in the matter and after investigating suspended the license of the private hospital and the manager of the hospital was booked for wrongful confinement of a patient. But that’s not how all the cases end. As the law stays silent on this issue many cases end up with becoming entangled.

There are many instances where court of law has declared this practice of detaining patient by hospitals for unpaid bills as unlawful. While hearing a PIL case which cited two cases where patients were allegedly detained at private hospital over disputed bills, hon’ble bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre of Bombay High Court said that “How can a hospital detain a person who is declared fit otherwise on the ground of non-payment of fees? Such hospital is curtailing the personal liberty of a person. Every member of the public must be made aware that such action on the part of a hospital is illegal. The court also directed the health department of the Maharashtra to upload the legal rights of the patients on their website and invoke penalty for non-compliance of the rules.[1]”.

Though In  2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare along with the National Human Rights Commission released a draft of ‘Charter of Patient Rights’ to be implemented by state governments. This was done with a view to help patients identify their rights through a single, more accessible document. The draft states that ‘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 non-payment/dispute regarding payment of hospital charges against wishes of the caretakers’[2]. But here the issue arises is that this charter of ‘patient rights’ is yet to be implemented. It would be difficult to fall doctors in line unless and until this charter is sanctioned for non- compliance.

Conclusion:

Does the god complex prevail among today’s doctors? Do they see themselves as an evidence of human frailty and morality? A patient should not be detained by any doctor just for few pennies. Committing such an act may constitute the offense of wrongful confinement under Sec. 340-342 of IPC. Doctors can take advance or fee from the patient before starting the treatment and also doctor always has an option to resort to legal remedies to recover their dues. A sincere effort should be made for a platform which will provide quality information and will educate citizens of their rights as patients while seeking health care.

Although the efforts have been made by the medical council of India who published, in 2002 a Code of Ethics Regulations which deals with the duties and responsibilities of physicians but unfortunately that does not include patient’s rights. The only recourse for any violation of the patient’s right is left is to approach the consumer courts.

In this context, it is very important to introduce a mechanism for patient’s right so that one can enable them for better health care.

 By,

Adv. Aditi Rajput | Abhay Nevagi & Associates


[1] Times of India in its article “Detaining patients for unpaid bills is illegal: Bombay HC” dated January 12, 2018

[2] Government of India, Ministry of health & family welfare, National Council secretariat on August 30, 2018