The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to respond to a petition filed by Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) that said fundamental right to health had taken a back seat as patients were forced to choose between expensive private care and an “inadequate” public health sector, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition was heard by a bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant, who expressed hope that the government will respond positively to the issue raised in the petition.
The public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the JSA demands implementation of the Clinical Establishments Act to regulate private hospitals, including regulation of rates and standard treatment guidelines. The PIL also asks for display and observance of the NHRC Patients Rights charter, and an accessible grievance redressal mechanism for patients.
“The regulation of standards in clinical establishments adopted as a national policy goal by Government of India nearly two decades ago is yet to be effectively implemented across the country. This is, therefore, a denial of the right to a dignified life. Minimum healthcare is assured under Articles 21, 41 and 47 of the Constitution and the international covenants,” the petition, represented by senior advocate Sanjay Parekh, stated.
“This mechanism would look into grievances of the patients at different levels. This would include denial of patients’ rights by the hospitals/ clinics and failure to provide minimum care and facilities as provided under the Clinical Establishments Act and Rules,” the petition added. According to the JSA, despite the existence of the Act, currently more than 70% patient care is provided by the private sector and less than 30% patients use the public sector.
The petition came at a time when the whole country had witnessed the skyrocketing costs of treatment in private hospitals during the ongoing pandemic. According to JSA, proper implementation of the Clinical Establishments Act would help regulate the situation. The petition highlighted that the inadequacies that exist in the public health care system, such as the lack of sufficient infrastructure, human resources, non-availability of medicines, lack of adequate budgetary allocation, force people to choose the private sector.
In recent times, the Union government’s focus has been on privatising healthcare and strengthening the insurance-based model, instead of improving the framework of the public healthcare system and making it accessible for all, especially the poor and the marginalised. This has manifested in the lack of allocation of adequate funds for the National Health Mission in the recent Union Budgets. JSA has time and again raised voices against this.
“The petition has made the Central Government and all state governments as parties to the
petition. Based on the first hearing today, now notices will be issued to Central government
and all State governments,” the petitioners said in a statement released on Tuesday. They added that they were hopeful that this process would have a positive outcome, and the governments would issue orders to check the wide range of violations that have caused patients to suffer in private hospitals.