In an attempt to fight rampant malpractices violating patients’ rights in the private health sector, a collective of health activists, doctors, lawyers and organisations have announced plans to launch a website that will function as a watchdog scrutinising private hospitals in India.
The website, named privatehospitalswatch.org, was announced on Wednesday during a two-day South Asia-level workshop on patients’ rights organised in Mumbai by non-profit organisations Sathi and the Centre for Health and Social Justice. The workshop brought together 60 health rights activists working for patients’ rights in 11 states in India as well in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Kenya.
The website, which is still under construction, aims to serve as a platform for all activists and campaigners fighting medical malpractices in the private sector to put up their findings in the public domain.
“The private health sector in India has been operating in a shadow zone – it has grown with the help of public subsidies for medical education, hospital land and import duties, but it consciously evades public accountability,” said Dr Abhay Shukla, national convener of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a network of non-profit public health NGOs, who was present at the workshop in Mumbai. “Our website will be one way to make this behemoth accountable, by putting documents related to all cases of medical negligence and malpractices in the public domain so that people can see what is going on.”
While the official date of the website’s public release has not yet been announced, activists and organisations who attended the patients’ rights workshop are preparing to publish details of their various campaigns and cases on it.
Few avenues for justice
Private hospitals and clinics in India have often been accused of corruption, overcharging, negligence and other violations of patients’ rights. As of now, however, grievance redressal mechanisms for citizens who want to take up cases against private hospitals are very limited: they can either approach overburdened consumer courts, their State Medical Councils or civil courts where cases drag on for decades.
“But the consumer forum has a limited mandate of looking only at cases of negligence, and over the years we have seen that State Medical Councils have completely failed to address people’s complaints and provide relief,” said Dr Abhijit More, co-convener of the non-profit Jan Arogya Abhiyan, Maharashtra.
The Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010, was enacted by the central government to ensure the regulation of private medical establishments in the country, but most states in India have not started work on implementation of the Act. “There is an organised lobby of doctors and hospital owners across the country opposing the implementation of the Act, so it needs a strong political will to actually implement it,” said More.
Even in states where versions of the Clinical Establishments Act have been in place, health activists have had to struggle to bring in amendments that would protect patients’ rights. The Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007, for instance, did not include grievance redressal and a patients’ rights charter till civil society activists fought a pitched battle for amendments to the law.
“Price regulation for medical devices and treatment has still not been included in the law,” said Akhila Vasan, an activist from the Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali, one of the organisations at the forefront of the campaign for changes to the Medical Establishments law in the state.
Doctors and activists are now hoping that the new website for patients’ rights will facilitate collaborative campaigns across the country to fight against overcharging, corruption and other malpractice in private hospitals.