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Historic Bengal health bill clears legislative hurdle

The path-breaking West Bengal Clinical Establishments ( Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017 was passed in the Assembly on Friday. This first of its kind regulation anywhere in the country is aimed at preventing harassment of patients and their relatives during treatment at hospitals.

The West Bengal Clinical Establishment regulatory Commission will be set up and will be headed by a sitting or a retired High Court judge or a former chief secretary.

The Bill proposes stringent measures to check malpractices by private health players.

Private healthcare establishments may be fined up to Rs 10 lakh for deficiency in service and functioning without a license. They may be fined up to Rs 5 lakh for fudging documents. Treatment to accident, acid attack and rape victims will be mandatory.

Tabling the bill, chief minister Mamata Banerjee who is also the health minister said it would bring transparency, prevent unnecessary harassment of patients and their relatives and ensure compensation in case of medical negligence. Describing the bill as "historic", she said it would serve as a role model for other states.

Justifying her move to place the bill she said that state government hospitals were under the close scrutiny of the health department and those guilty of dereliction were suspended and in some cases even sacked. Congress MLAs wanted the bill to be sent to the select committee as "it was tabled in haste." Brushing aside their demand Banerjee said that complaints were piling up against private hospitals and there could not be any delay in implementing the bill. She thanked those who had opposed the bill " as they would later realise the mistake they made by not supporting it." Looking at Congress MLAs she said, "Are you owners of private nursing homes that you're trying to delay the bill?" However, the bill was later passed unanimously.

She spoke of her meeting with the authorities of private hospitals on 22 February and after that, she had a marathon meeting lasting for over six hours with the state chief secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay, home secretary Malay Dey and health secretary RS Shukla.

Banerjee said the state government had closely analysed the complaints it had received from people for more than a year. Now, data from private hospitals in the districts was being collected by the health department.

Citing the case of Sanjay Roy whose death in SSKM had brought the neglect of patients in private hospitals to light, she said Apollo Hospitals had taken away FD receipts, PAN card and even deed of the house as a security deposit. In another case, the same hospital took three cheques collectively worth Rs 5.97 lakh from a patient and he had to submit the deed of his ancestral house as security deposit. "What is this? Everything has a limit. A hospital cannot behave in such an inhuman manner." She said Apollo had charged Rs 24,000 from a patient for a medicine whose price was actually Rs 10,000. "Apollo hospital has removed its former CEO and this proves that our charges are true," she said.

In many private hospitals operations were carried out at night so that bills could be inflated. "Either you change or law will take its own course," she maintained. Banerjee said that private hospital authorities often pressurise doctors to follow their draconian diktats and encourage them to do private practice at government hospitals.

She said in government hospitals an additional 27,000 beds had been provided. People from neighbouring states like Odisha, Bihar and northeast are coming to state-run hospitals for treatment. Of 42 super speciality hospitals, 33 are functioning. 112 fair price medicine shops and diagnostic centres are also functional. Out of 16, nine mother and child hubs are functioning. Institutional delivery has reached 90% from 35 %. Seven new health districts will come up soon.
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