The world is grappling with the COVID -19 and so is India. In these times under the Disaster Management Act the Government Of India and under the delegation the State Governments are issuing appropriate directions in this regard to the general public and also in the Industrial Sector including Hospitals.
Of late in the ongoing pandemic we have seen many press reports about Hospitals refusing patients and also private doctors refusing to treat patients and many courts passing orders directing the hospitals to treat emergency cases.
We have to see here that the hospitals are bound to treat emergency cases which are brought to them and the emergency may be of any kind and it may require specialist treatment or urgent operational procedures which may depend on many factors. The hospitals cannot directly reject the patients which may approach for any kind of problem and such refusal to treat or provide advice may attract deficiency of service as per Consumer Protection Act 1986 Section 2 (1)(o) apart from claiming damages under tort and also criminal liability.
That apart not attending the patient who has come to the hospital or the doctor amounts to ‘Negligence’ and Negligence is defined as :- “The breach of duty caused by the omission to do something which a reasonable man guided by those consideration would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do”. Further Medical Negligence or malpractice means “ Lack of reasonable care and skill or will full negligence on the part of doctor in the treatment of a patient whereby the health or life of a patient is endangered”.
Under the Consumer Protection Act the following are liable :-
- All medical/dental practitioners doing independent medical/dental practice unless rendering free service.
- All private hospitals charging patients.
- All hospitals having free as well as paying patients and all the paying and free category patients receiving treatment in such hospitals.
- Medical/Dental practitioners and hospitals paid by an insurance firm for the treatment of their insured or a group of employees insured.
That apart the doctors are governed by the rules and regulation under the Medical Council of India and also have code of ethics and violation of the ethics may lead to the cancellation of right to practice.
The Hon’Ble Supreme Court of India in AIR 1969 SC 128 held that “Doctors duty towards patient begins the moment a doctor agrees to take on the case, and he must not abandon his patient”.
And further in Parmanad Katara Vs Union Of India the Supreme Court of India emphasized the need for making it obligatory for hospitals and medical practitioners to provide emergency
medical care to all patients and the same view was reiterated in Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity Vs State of West Bengal reported in 1996(4) SCC 37.
Therefore in this global pandemic the hospital and private doctor’s are legally and ethically duty bound to provide immediate treatment to the patients and to the patients requiring immediate care or treatments and they cannot refuse to even check the patients under the guise of the pandemic.
The private practitioners including dentists can also after having a look at the patient may advice further course of action after providing immediate relief and also inform the situation clearly to the patients and attendants and wherever necessary provide further treatment. The doctors can also have online clinic for minor treatments and also advice patients according to the symptoms and also inform them of their obligations to avoid unnecessary legal complications.
Deepak Misra Advocate, Practicing at High Court of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.