May 14, 2020: The Gujarat High Court Division Bench comprising justices J. B. Pardiwala and Ilesh J. Vora directed the State of Gujarat that private hospitals cannot charge exorbitant fees for treatment of COVID-19 patients. The same bench had last week on May 11, 2020, directed the State Government to take necessary steps to regulate the exorbitant fees
charged by private hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients.
The Court made few suggestions to be considered by the State authorities, as follows: 1. It laid down the fact that the gravest and serious problem as on date within the State is hunger. People are without food, more particularly, the migrants, the laborers, and the people hailing from the poor and downtrodden class of the society. In this regard, the Court directed the State authorities to see that during the period of lockdown, some modalities be worked out by virtue of which few selected and trustworthy NGOs, volunteers and charitable institutions can be asked to provide food to the poor and the needy.
It directed the State to see that at any cost, the private hospitals should not be permitted to demand exorbitant amounts for the purpose of treatment of COVID19 patients. The Court noted in this regard that, “these are difficult times and not the time to do business and earn profit. The medical services are the most essential services and in times like the present one, the hospitals cannot demand lacs of rupees from a patient. This direction had to be passed as all government hospitals in Ahmedabad are fully occupied with the rise in the number of COVID19 and this has compelled the patients to get admitted in private hospitals.”
The Court went on to say that “this excessive charge in this critical war-like situation when humanity is fighting for survival is absolutely unjustified and deserves to be deprecated. This is creating an unequal situation for private hospitals in the city. When so many are clamoring for treatment, the exorbitant rates appear inhumane. Except for the very rich and affluent class of people, such hospitals remain out of reach for most patients. The treatment for this pandemic in these hard times even if offered by any private hospital must be reasonable and affordable.”
3. Directing the State to look in the matter, the Court noted that if the private hospitals do not budge and are determined to demand exorbitant amounts, then this Court will have to take appropriate legal action against such hospitals and the consequences may be quite bitter including cancellation of license. 4. Directing the Police, the Court said that if a person is ailing and requires immediate medical treatment, then the Police should not restrain such a person from reaching to a particular hospital or a clinic of a private doctor. The Police should exercise its discretion in this regard wisely and adopt a practical approach in this regard. In the end, the Court requested the learned Advocate General and the learned Government Pleader to look into the decision rendered by a Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court on May 12, 2020, which was very much on similar lines as given by the Gujarat High Court. The matter is posted on May 22, 2020, for further hearing. [READ ORDER]