The Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced by the Siddaramaiah government in the Assembly, has been referred to a joint select committee of the legislature but the threat posed by it still remains. It is intended to regulate private hospitals but the draconian measures proposed in the bill will badly hurt the working of hospitals and ultimately go against the interests of the patients. The bill proposes to classify private hospitals, fix the rates of procedures and services offered by them and set up patients’ grievance redressal committees. It will also be mandatory for hospitals to display the patients’ charter and the medical establishment’s charter. The provisions may seem to have been framed to protect ‘gullible patients’, as Health and Family Welfare Minister K R Ramesh Kumar claimed in the Assembly. But in practice, they will hurt the patients, lead to harassment of hospitals and doctors and create another forum for corruption. It is a measure to pander to unnecessary and harmful populism.
Doctors and hospitals have protested against the bill and it has met with strong opposition from the members of the legislature. In the name of regulation, it is an attempt to control private hospitals while leaving government hospitals out of its purview. It is an ill-conceived and wrong idea to control private hospitals which provide an important and essential service to the people. If there are lapses in their functioning, there are laws, which already exist, to deal with them. Private hospitals have become popular because government hospitals have failed to provide good service to the people. When government hospitals give quality service to the people they accept them and go for them. Institutions like AIIMS in Delhi and the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology in Bengaluru are good examples. The government should improve the standards and quality of treatment and services in its hospitals before trying to control private hospitals.
As elsewhere in the country, private hospitals have thrived in Karnataka, especially in Bengaluru, because of the weaknesses and inade-quacies in the government’s healthcare system. They offer different levels and kinds of service and so it is not practical to impose a single standard or uniform criteria on them. They function in the public arena and even compete among themselves. So the people have the opportunity to compare and judge them on the basis of their performance and other issues. The changes the government has offered to make in the bill, like the dropping of the clause for imprisonment in case of violation of provisions, are not enough. The bill should be dropped altogether.