Tuesday, 7 February, 2023

Private Hospitals & Medical Ethics

Yam Bahadur Dura


The private hospitals have been continuously refusing to admit suspected Coronavirus patients. Even non- COVID-19 patients are being rejected from getting admitted in the hospitals.’
Nowadays, this kind of news has been circulating across the general public through the media. They are accused of not helping the country at the difficult times of global crisis created by COVID-19. Many people have been expressing sorrow over the private hospitals’ disregard for basic medical ethics and conduct. Amidst the puzzling behaviour of the private institutions, the Supreme Court on March 31 instructed them to treat COVID-19 patients. A single bench of Justice Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma issued the order saying that the private hospitals have an equal responsibility to ensure health facility to people at a time of the pandemic. The Court order states that no private health facility can deprive people of health service on any pretext. However, the private hospitals are turning a deaf ear to the court’s order.

Oath of ethics
The basic duty of a hospital is to provide public with medical services. It is highly service- and welfare–oriented work, which has a lot to do with ethics and humanity. That’s why it will be better to take into consideration the famous ‘Hippocratic Oath’. It is an oath of ethics taken by the medical workers. This widely quoted Greek medical text (ethics) says that one will work for benefit of the sick to the best of his or her ability and judgment.
Different national and international legal instruments have also perceived health services as fundamental rights of human beings. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 has stipulated medical care as basic human rights. Article 25 affirms, ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.’
In the same way, ‘Nepal’s Constitution, 2015’ has also perceived right to health as basic rights. Article 35 (1) reads, ‘Every citizen shall have the right to free basic health services from the state, and no one shall be deprived of emergency health services.’
Health related Acts have made the health institutions responsible to cure patients with infectious diseases. According to Section 4 of ‘The Public Health Service Act, 2018’, every health institution should provide emergency health service as prescribed. Likewise, Section 49 (6) of the same Act says that health institutions should make necessary arrangements for the treatment of the patient with infectious disease.
It is obvious that COVID-19 has been spreading worldwide. In a way, this is a time of medical (health) emergency, and people are in need of emergency health service. ‘The Public Health Service Act, 2018’ has defined emergency health service this way: ‘Emergency health service means the initial and immediate service to be provided as it is necessary to free the lives of the persons from risk, save the lives or organs from being lost, whose lives are in the risky condition upon falling into unexpected incident or emergency condition.’
This is high time for the private hospitals to prove themselves as an important and friendly social institutions by serving needy people in this difficult time. They are required to serve the nation proactively without any hesitations. Providing public with essential health service is their basic duty. However, it would be unjust to hold only the private hospitals responsible in the process of proving public with health services. The private hospitals itself cannot do everything. The government has a big role to facilitate them.
The government can facilitate and coordinate with the private hospitals in the process of curing COVID-19 patients covering many other essential aspects. After all, it’s the government’s obligation to facilitate, monitor and regulate the health service providers. The government and the private hospitals need to go hand in hand to save lives of people in this cursed time. Of course, the government has made some important decisions to involve the private hospitals in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Majority of people don’t know why the private hospitals are refusing to perform fundamental duty of treating patients. They need to express their concerns openly so that people may understand what their grievances and difficulties are.

Refusing to provide basic health service is violation of fundamental human rights. We need to remember the fact that Nepal’s Constitution, 2015 has guaranteed to get free basic and emergency health services. The spirit of the Constitution needs to be materialised by ensuring access of the citizens to health services making health facilities more regular, effective, qualitative and easily available.
To sum up, the private hospitals have a lot of responsibilities to support the country. Their tiny help can be a thankful job saving many precious lives. The current situation reminds us of an old maximum: ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’ The private hospitals should not project themselves only as fair weather friends.

(Dura teaches journalism and mass communication)