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Free bed order to private hospitals

New Delhi/Calcutta, Feb. 7: Delhi High Court today fixed a proportion of beds at some of the capital’s private hospitals for free treatment, raising the possibility of similar rules coming into force elsewhere, too.

The court ruled that private hospitals given land at a concession in Delhi must not bill patients from families earning less than Rs 2,000 a month. The order, applying to nearly 100 hospitals, earmarks 10 to 70 per cent of their beds for free treatment.

The ruling could spawn petitions with similar demands before other high courts, legal experts said. Advocate Ashok Agarwal of NGO Social Jurist, on whose petition the order was passed, said a similar plea had already been filed before Bombay High Court.

Hospitals in Calcutta, however, threatened a legal battle if such rules were imposed on them. “It’s not as if private hospitals here don’t offer free treatment to the poor. On several occasions, patients unable to pay have been bailed out,” said Sajal Dutta, president of the 13-member Association of Hospitals of Eastern India.

“But this can’t be binding, with all institutions forced to follow it. If required, we would move court.”

Dutta also claimed that only “one or two” private hospitals in Calcutta had bought land at a concession. Rupali Basu of Wockhardt Hospitals and Satadal Saha, vice-president of AMRI Hospitals, Salt Lake, too, said any imposition would be unacceptable.

In Delhi, 70 private hospitals allotted cheap or free land by government agencies must set aside a tenth of their beds for the poor even if they hadn’t given any such commitment at the time of allotment. Twenty-six others, which had undertaken to set aside a fixed proportion of beds for the poor, must meet that condition.

The proportion is 25 per cent for those allotted land by the Delhi Development Authority and 70 per cent for those who took land from the central government.

The court, to make sure needy patients weren’t harassed, has asked the hospitals not to demand certificates of their income beforehand. The patients are to be admitted after they sign a declaration form about their earnings, which can later be verified.

The bench passed its orders after going through a report filed by a committee formed by the Delhi government in keeping with the court’s orders last December. The panel has suggested that a complaint cell be set up to ensure that the needy are not denied the benefit.

Social Jurist, the NGO, said the free-treatment clause was provided in the allotment letter or the lease deed itself; yet most of the 26 hospitals were flouting the obligation.

Executives in Delhi’s private hospitals said they didn’t yet know the details of the court order but would abide by whatever it said. But three hospitals contacted by The Telegraph declined to reveal how many free patients they had treated so far.

“We’ve had patients who’ve been treated free in our hospital as required,” said Dr A.K. Dubey, medical superintendent at Escorts.

“We’re committed to our social obligations,” said Deep Ghatak, spokesperson for Max Balaji Hospital.

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