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Patients cannot be detained for non-payment of hospital bills, according to the new draft rules issued by the state public health department. And “under no circumstances, a dead body be withheld for non-payment of hospital bill or any other reason”, state the draft rules issued in July that seek to amend the Nursing Home Registration Rules in Maharashtra.

Government lawyer Prajakta Shinde on Wednesday furnished the draft rules before Bombay HC bench of Justices Ranjit More and M S Karnik, which was hearing a PIL filed in 2014 by Sanjay Prajapati, who was detained in a hospital for not paying medical bills, along with a bunch of similar petitions.

Taken by surprise, the Association of Medical Consultants, which represents nursing homes across Maharashtra, said it was unaware of these draft rules. The draft rules provide for grievance redressal to patients and is “onesided”, argued the association’s counsel, Rui Rodrigues. Arguing that a balance needs to be struck for hospitals that are burdened with unpaid bills, he sought time to file objections and suggestions to the draft rules. Though the deadline had ended in November, the HC gave the association two weeks to file objections and suggestions.

The public health department had brought out the draft rules for nursing homes following an October 2018 order of the HC bench of then Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice Girish Kulkarni in a PIL on a similar issue. The HC had, in that order, directed the department to give a status update on the Maharashtra Clinical Establishment (Registration and Regulation) Bill, the Bombay Nursing Homes Registration Rules, 2006, and whether any survey was conducted to find out the number of registered licensed nursing homes, and what steps had been taken against unregistered ones.

In Prajapati’s PIL, in October 2016, the HC bench of Justices V M Kanade and Swapna Joshi had observed that the court has entertained the PIL to “find a solution to the problem of non-payment of medical bills…and resultant action of detention of such patient or even a corpse, if patient dies”.

Rodrigues on Wednesday said that after deliberations between the director of health services and other stakeholders in October 2016, the Kanade-Joshi bench had suggested that a grievance redressal forum be set up for both patients and hospitals, but the draft rules exclude the rights of nursing homes.