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West Bengal assembly passes bill to regulate private hospitals

West Bengal Assembly on Friday passed a bill to regulate functioning of private health facilities, providing for up to three-year jail terms and trials under the IPC for offenders and fines up to Rs 50 lakh in case of death of patients due to medical negligence.

Under the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, the state will set up a regulatory commission to oversee private healthcare facilities, deciding for them what they can charge and deal with complaints from people receiving treatment.

The law seeks to bring about more transparency in healthcare, but hospital owners said setting up a commission to determine charges is a retrograde step and will deter future investments in private hospitals. The populist move will face legal challenges, they added.

“The (state) government is of the view that healthcare service is not a commercial proposition; it is a service… which should be delivered with humility and human touch,” the law proclaims as its stated objective.

The law it replaces, which dates back to 2010, is not adequate, “particularly with regard to (regulating) charges and rates claimed by… clinical establishments”.

Charges levied by private hospitals should cover costs and generate only a decent surplus, the state government said on Friday.

Under the new law, hospitals must “strictly follow fixed rates” for clinical investigations and facilities, and in the event of any complication requiring a change in course of treatment, hospitals will not be allowed to charge anything extra.

The process of introducing a new law for the healthcare sector was kicked off by the chief minister herself, who is also the state’s health minister, on 22 February, when she met the heads of all key private hospitals in Kolkata.

While applauding the bill for promoting transparency in private hospitals, R. Venkatesh, regional director (east) at Narayana Health, said: “We hope the views of key stakeholders are taken into account while determining…(the) charges for treatment.”

Highlights of the bill:

  • The regulatory commission can impose penalty up to Rs 50 lakh on hospitals.
  • The regulatory commission will be headed by a former judge of the High Court.
  • A 13-member West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission to be set up.
  • Hospitals not following this law may lose license.
  • Hospitals getting land from Government must provide free treatment to 10% people.
  • Hospitals with more than 100 beds must start fair price medicine shops and diagnostic centres
  • Hospitals must start ‘Public Grievance Cell’
  • Hospitals cannot charge more than the package for treatment. They must provide an estimate for additional cost.
  • Hospitals have to start e-prescriptions and keep online medical records.
  • This Bill makes provisions for proper compensation in case of negligence by hospitals.
  • From bed charge to cost of surgery or ICU charges, all packages must have a specific charge. Patients must not be charged more than what is mentioned in the rate chart.
  • Every hospital must display the fixed rate chart.
  • Help desks must be set up to assist families of patients regarding any information about the bill or treatment.
  • Hospitals cannot withhold the bodies of deceased patients if bill is pending.
  • Primary treatment must be provided to accident victims before informing the police.
  • Hospitals with more than 100 beds must start fair price medicine shops.
  • If any hospital violates the new law, they will be fined Rs 10 lakh or more. Government also has the right to cancel their license.
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