The High Court has asked the authorities concerned to take legal action against hospitals and clinics if they are found negligent in rendering healthcare services to general patients amid the current pandemic situation.
Denial of providing healthcare services to any patient in a health centre would be treated as a criminal offence, the court observed. It also directed the health ministry and the health directorate to bring individuals accused of such offences to book.
Pointing out that news of people dying without getting treatment at hospitals are being reported in the media every day, the court said if any critically ill patient is denied treatment at a public or private healthcare facility and eventually succumbs to her/his illness that death would be considered as a "death by negligence".
A virtual bench headed by Justice M Enayetur Rahim came up with this landmark order on Monday after virtual hearings on three separate writ petitions over the matter.
The court also ordered the Ministry of Health and the Directorate General of Health Services to form monitoring cells to ensure constant monitoring of private hospitals, especially those in the Dhaka and Chattogram metropolises and divisional and district headquarters, so that they provide full health care services to all Covid-19 and non-Covid patients.
At the same time, the court ordered the health ministry and the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), to file a report with the court by June 30 on whether the directives by the DGHS for ensuring treatment of non-Covid-19 patients at all private hospitals and private clinics were being followed properly and if not then what kind of punitive measures have been taken against responsible persons and authorities.
The health ministry on May 12 this year issued a notice directing private hospitals to provide healthcare for non-Covid-19 patients. The notice pointed out that patients had been facing various issues while trying to get treatment at different hospitals since the novel coronavirus began spreading.
The ministry also held meetings with the Bangladesh Private Clinic and Diagnostic Owners Association to ensure treatment for non-Covid-19 patients. Notifications have also been published in the media in this regard.
The notice further stated that each private hospital should have separate treatment facilities for suspected Covid-19 patients and they must not refuse anyone seeking emergency treatment. Refusal to follow these instructions could result in the cancellation of a hospital's license, read the ministry's notice.
On May 24, the government issued another notice directing all public and private hospitals in the country to treat Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients. The notice added that all eligible hospitals must make separate arrangements for treating Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients. However, the reality is very different at many hospitals throughout Bangladesh.
Ensuring accountability in ICU management
The High Court bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim in its directive issued Monday said that the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) management programme in government hospitals controlled centrally by the health directorate should be expanded.
Stressing on ensuring accountability in this regard, the court said deserving patients must be given fast and easy access to the services.
The court also asked the authorities concerned to take necessary measures to publish daily updates on the situation of ICUs in hospitals through daily health bulletin and various social media platforms.
A separate hotline named "ICU Hotline" should be introduced so that sufferers can easily contact the ICU management and monitoring cell, the court said, adding the necessary steps should be taken to inform people everyday of the hotline numbers through publicity in the media, especially television.
Monitoring exorbitant charge at private clinics
The High Court also ordered monitoring to ensure that patients are not charged exorbitantly or irrationally by private hospitals for ICU facilities.
Fixing price of oxygen cylinders
The court also ordered concerned authorities to fix the price of oxygen cylinders.
Retailers will have to display the retail price list of oxygen cylinders and refilling costs in their shops or businesses, the court said, adding that the authorities concerned may consider stopping retail sale of oxygen cylinders without doctor's prescription and identity of patients to prevent the artificial crisis of oxygen cylinders.
The court asked the commerce ministry and the consumer rights department to strengthen monitoring of the supply and sale of oxygen cylinders.
Reports on compliance with government instructions
The court ordered the authorities of private hospitals and clinics to submit a report to the health ministry and the health directorate every 15 days detailing if the private healthcare facilities are properly complying with the government instructions issued in the current situation.
The health ministry and the health directorate were ordered to submit their reports to the court every 15 days based on the reports submitted by the private hospitals.
Besides, the health ministry and the health directorate were asked to produce a report before the court on June 30 mentioning how many Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients have been given treatment at private hospitals and clinics having more than 50 beds in the period between May 24 and June 15 in line with the directives issued by the health ministry on May 24.
The court also ordered the ministry to provide it with a list of private hospitals and clinics with 50 or more beds.
The three petitions were filed by five lawyers including Barrister Mahfuzur Rahman on behalf of Justice Watch Foundation.