Stringent Bengal law to curb private hospitals’ huge bills, penalise negligence (Roundup)

Kolkata, March 3 (IANS) The West Bengal Assembly on Friday passed a tough law regulating functioning of private health facilities, providing for up to three year jail terms and trials under culpable homicide section of the IPC as also a maximum fine of Rs 50 lakh for patients’ deaths due to severe medical negligence.

The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017l, tabled by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee, was passed by voice vote, with the government rejecting the opposition demand that it be sent to the standing committee for scrutiny.

The government also turned down amendments moved by opposition members.

The legislation, aimed at bringing transparency, ending harassment of patients and checking medical negligence in private hospitals and nursing homes, draws under its ambit all other private medical set ups – irrespective of whether they are registered or not.

“If there is medical negligence then compensation will be given by the establishment. For minor damages, Rs 3 lakh, for big damages, Rs 5 lakh and in case of death, minimum Rs. 10 lakh. However, the compensation amount will not be more than Rs 50 lakh. This compensation will be given within six months,” said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee while addressing the House on the bill.

The bill stipulates setting up a high power 13 member West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission to monitor activities of private hospitals.

The commission, having the status of a civil court, would be headed by a sitting or former judge or a bureaucrat who has worked as Chief Secretary or Additional Chief Secretary of a state or held an equivalent post at the centre. It is empowered to issue summons in case of a dispute.

The penal measures range between compensation and scrapping the licence of the physician/hospital. The commission may also put the offender behind bars up to three years. It can also order trying the offender under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provisions including the sections pertaining to culpable homicide in case a patient dies due to severe negligence.

Banerjee said hospitals will not be allowed to order unnecessary tests.

“Acid attack and rape victims and emergency patients must be given proper and prompt treatment. Hospitals will not be allowed to charge more than the designated amount specified in package for treatment. If there is additional cost then, they must provide an estimate for the additional cost. That estimate will not go beyond a certain limit and that limit will be decided by the Commission,” she said.

“Dead bodies will not be held up. Hospitals will have to set up public grievances cell. FD certificate or PAN cards will not be taken up for submission by hospitals.

“Help desks must be set up to assist families of patients regarding any information about the bill or treatment. E-prescription systems have to be put in place. While discharging patients, proper documents will have to be given to the patient,” she said.

Hospitals with more than 100 beds must start fair price medicine shops.

“If a hospital violates the new law, then a fine of Rs 10 lakh or more will be slapped,” she said.

Hospitals are mandated to declare bed charges, ICU charges and package costs that can’t be altered.

Calling the bill historic, Banerjee hoped it would become the model for the entire country.

She appealed to doctors to put in their papers if authorities ask them to do anything unethical. “You can always join the state services. We are opening lot of super speciality hospitals.”

Private hospitals and NGOs fighting for patients’ rights welcomed the legislation, but there was also a view that the state-run hospitals should be brought under its purview.

People for Better Treatment (PBT) called for an amendment to include government hospitals as well under its ambit, failing which, it threatened to legally challenge the Act.

R. Venkatesh, Zonal Director – East, Narayana Health, said the bill was a step in the “right direction” to introduce transparency, trust and accountability into the medicare system.

“We welcome the fact that the Bill also protects hospital property and medical staff by urging patients and their families to seek redressal from the commission. In the long term, the Bill will enhance clear communication and delivery,” Venkatesh said.