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HC tells hospitals not to neglect non-COVID patients

Make Hospitals Accountable for Denying Admission to Non-Covid Emergency Patients, HC tells State Govt

Despite the Government of Manipur having issued an order last year at the heights of COVID-19 spread, instructing both public and private hospitals to ensure all patients who reach their facilities are attended to promptly, especially emergency and time-bound cases, the issue of denying Non-COVID-19 patients in the hospitals persists.

Meanwhile, the Manipur High Court on June 8 has asked the State Government to take necessary punitive action against such erring hospitals/medical establishments that deny treatment to patients requiring emergency medical care due to serious illness or owing to accidents, on the grounds of priority to COVID-19 patients.

Notably, after the death of 20-year old pregnant woman, Kanpatliu Kamei from Makuilongdi village in Senapati district, who was COVID-19 negative but was denied admission in the wee hours of August 6 last year after trying for admission at five hospitals in Imphal, the State Government had issued an order dated August 6, 2020 instructing government hospitals and private hospitals to ensure that all patients who reach their facilities are attended to promptly, especially emergency and time-bound cases.

Each hospital/healthcare facility was required to designate responsible staff to ensure that there was no denial of service. This order recorded that many healthcare facilities were denying services to patients due to COVID-19 pandemic and the Ministries concerned had issued instructions to hospitals and all related medical establishments, both in the public and the private sector, to continue to remain functional. It was further made clear that any violations would be viewed very severely and action would be taken under the Manipur Nursing Homes and Clinical Registration Act, 1992, apart from the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

However, a Division Bench consisting of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Kh Nobin Singh were informed that even though the Government has already issued an order instructing all Government hospitals and private hospitals to ensure that all patients who reach their facilities are attended to promptly, yet there is no implementation of this order.

This was submitted before the High Court by Lenin Hijam, Additional Advocate General for the respondents of the public interest litigation (PIL) case filed by Khwairakpam Tomba, 42 years, a resident of Ningthoukhong Ward No. 3, Bishnupur district who was represented by Senior Advocate BP Sahu. The respondents were the State of Manipur through the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur and the Department of Health and Family Welfare through its Secretary/Commissioner, Government of Manipur.

The PIL was filed ventilating two grievances. The first grievance was with regard to Government and Private hospitals in the State not providing treatment to patients requiring emergency medical care due to serious illness or owing to accidents, on the ground that priority was to be given only to COVID-19 patients. The second grievance was with regard to private hospitals in the State charging exorbitant fees for treatment, and more particularly, from COVID-19 patients.

The High Court order on June 8 also mentioned that the State authorities filed compliance Affidavit dated 01.06.2021 and private hospitals which were empanelled with the State Government, for treating Government employees and their dependents, were informed that the charges for treatment, investigation and hospitalisation, including room rent for such Government employees/dependents, should not be higher than those chargeable by the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) hospitals in the nearest city included in CGHS Scheme.

However, the High Court Order did not explicitly mention about treatment charges for the people who are not Government employees and their dependents.

“It is therefore made clear that in the event of any violation of the aforestated orders being brought to its notice, the State Government shall take necessary punitive action against the erring hospital/medical establishment as per due procedure, irrespective of the identity of the party that brings such violation to its notice,” the Division Bench of the High Court of Manipur ordered.

In another Covid-related PIL filed by Naresh Maimom who is represented by Advocate Serto T Kom while S. Suresh, ASG appeared for the Union of India and Lenin Hijam, Additional Advocate General, Manipur appeared for the State authorities and Advocate M. Devananda appeared for Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), the Bench reiterated the significance of a long-term action plan to combat more COVID-19 waves, if any, saying it is not enough for the State Government to respond by taking measures after the event.

“State Government must necessarily formulate an action plan to meet the challenges of a possible future wave of the pandemic. It is not enough for the State Government to respond by taking measures after the event and it must necessarily equip itself so as to be in a state of preparedness, in anticipation of all such challenges that may arise. As on date, the State Government is yet to disclose any such plan,” the High Court observed.

The Bench also dealt extensively with the issue of Oxygen supply in Manipur. It has directed the Central Government to look into alleged shortage of oxygen cylinders in the State.

The Court was informed by the authorities that, apart from the 2691 oxygen cylinders provided by the Central Government, numerous oxygen cylinders were donated by individuals and private organisations. However, there is no data placed on record as to the total number of oxygen cylinders presently in use in the State and the medical facility-wise utilisation thereof, the order mentioned.

It is incumbent upon the Central Government to look into this issue as only 2691 oxygen cylinders have been provided till date to the State of Manipur, which has a population of over 33 lakhs, the order said.

So far as oxygen supplies are concerned, the State Government has been asked to prepare, regularly update and publish in a tabulated form, data indicating hospital-wise number of beds, number of ICU beds, number of presently admitted patients, present requirement of oxygen cylinders etc. in respect of all the Government and private hospitals.

A report is also sought on management of Covid Care Centres and status as per surprise visits and random inspections.

“The additional affidavit to be filed by the State Government shall also address the issue as to how the 24 Covid Care Centres, established across the State, are being monitored. Lenin Hijam, Additional Advocate General, Manipur, asserted that teams are being constituted by the Chief Medical Officers of respective Districts, where these Centres are situated, to randomly visit and check the operation and functioning of the Centres. Details in this regard shall be furnished,” the Court Order stated and next hearing for the matter is fixed on June 15.

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