The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Served bill for missing meals
- Hospital holds back patient for not picking up food tab

When Atul Pradhan from Orissa got admitted in Medical College and Hospital (MCH) for tuberculosis treatment a few days go, he never realised he would become the first patient to be “detained” by the authorities for refusing to pay for a meal he did not eat.

The doctors attending to Atul discharged him on Monday (he was admitted on February 17). But the administration refused to release him. Atul would have to pay for meals, which he did not eat, if he wanted to get away from bed no. 131, they said. It did not matter that his brother had put it in writing that Atul was not to be served hospital food.

Atul’s brother Amulya works in the hospital mess. “When my brother was put in a paying bed, I made it clear that I was being forced to admit him there as no free bed was vacant,” Amulya said on Monday, minutes after his brush with the administration. “But I also made it clear that Atul would not eat the meals provided by the hospital, as it was beyond our means,” he added.

Amulya had written “hospital-er khabar nebo na (we won’t take hospital meals)” on the admission proforma. “I told the administration that I would bring my brother’s food from outside,” he explained. For six days, Atul — who cannot speak a line of Bengali — turned down the nurses’ ‘request’ to eat the meals. On February 23, however, he ate the breakfast provided by the hospital. That continued till February 26, as Amulya continued to fetch the lunch and dinner.

On February 27, Amulya found out about the breakfasts and took up the matter with the nurses. The nurse on duty told him that, irrespective of his written declaration and the fact that his brother had eaten only breakfast, he would have to pay the entire meal-charge. Amulya immediately informed MCH superintendent K.K. Adhikari about what had transpired.

On Monday, when he went to get Atul released — after paying for the bed — Amulya discovered that he had been billed for 10 days’ food. “We were told about their refusing the meals on February 27 and, therefore, we charged them for 10 days’ meals,” an administrative official said.

Atul’s forced stay at the hospital has come in handy for the Haspatal-o-Janaswasthya Raksha Committee, which was the first to protest the government’s pay-for-meals order. “We will ensure that Atul gets justice,” a spokesperson said.

MCH deputy superintendent A. Biswas said the management could not do anything till the nurse concerned stated in writing that Atul had only four breakfasts and that his family had declared that he would not take hospital food. “We have no other route,” he maintained.

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