A suo moto petition was filed by the Bombay HC in light of the insufficiency of ventilators and oxygenated beds in hospitals. The Court directed the state to make immediate arrangements to provide medical aid to people in need, to reduce the death rate.
Background of the Case
The Bombay High Court instituted a suo moto petition due to conditions that were surrounding due to the unavailability of sufficient ventilators and oxygenated beds for COVID-19 patients. The people infected with the virus have to travel from one hospital to another for want of medical aid. According to numerous news reports, this has led to several increased deaths.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) have impleaded themselves in order to assist in tackling the problem of the increasing death rate. Further, the respondents have expressed concern regarding doctors above the age of 65 years or those who suffer from co-morbidities in providing services to COVID-19 patients. The IMA has also given an assurance that a list containing names and contact details of private doctors who shall provide their services will be provided.
Moreover, a task force has been constituted by the Collector of Nagpur. The Task Force consists of a team of 12 doctors and posts the receipt of the list from IMA; further, duties shall be assigned to different doctors. This entire process shall be carried out within 24 hours after receipt of the list. The Municipal Commissioner has submitted that this arrangement will suffice in the interim. The Collector has also assured to make the paramedical staff available for assistance.
The Court observed that non-availability of infrastructural facilities like ICU, ventilator beds could not be the reason for the state to deny medical aid. In fact, the government must make the required infrastructure to be available to the COVID-19 patients in need. Similarly, the unavailability of medical or paramedical staff wouldn’t suffice to refuse admission of patients by the hospitals. The preservation of human life is of paramount importance and hence every doctor, whether from a government hospital or not, had an obligation to extend their services. Even private doctors and other paramedical staff couldn’t refuse to provide assistance during the pandemic and have the same obligation as mentioned above. Further, it is the obligation of the state to secure adequate aid from all sources available and provide it to the public.
Regarding the issue surrounding the difficulty of doctors above 65years from rendering services, the Court advised that such services by senior doctors can be rendered via other modes of communication. This is feasible as it is being followed by doctors who are working from home after being infected by COVID-19. The Court directed that assistance can be obtained from Ayush Doctors and PG students who could work under the guidance of experienced doctors.
With respect to payment for the services rendered by the medical and paramedical staff, the Court observed that such a question of payment will be undertaken by the appropriate authorities. Further, the Court also directed that non-payment for such services shall not be a condition precedent for doctors to provide their services. The Court observed that the judges and lawyers have made themselves available 24×7 and the same must be done by the medical and paramedical staff in light of the pandemic situation.
The Court stated that they didn’t want the patients to travel from one hospital to the other in the lookout for medical aid, ventilators, and beds. The Court directed that if any patient approaches a non-COVID hospital for help, such a hospital must make necessary inquiries to help the patient immediately. Such obligation was conferred on the State and Task Force to ensure the patients were provided with relevant information and contact numbers of the hospitals where such facilities would be provided.
The Court referred the case of Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, where the duty of the state and the doctors to preserve life has been highlighted to be of paramount importance. The Court further clarified that there should be no prohibition of COVID-19 patients from securing aid and consultation with a doctor of their choice.
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