It all came to a head after sports minister Aroop Biswas, a known loyalist of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was forced to move his ailing mother to a government hospital.The private hospital in Kolkata where she was under treatment had presented him with a Rs 27 lakh bill. Although private,It all came to a head after sports minister Aroop Biswas, a known loyalist of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was forced to move his ailing mother to a government hospital.The private hospital in Kolkata where she was under treatment had presented him with a Rs 27 lakh bill. Although private healthcare has long been known to be exorbitant in West Bengal, this was perhaps the first time that someone senior in the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) was feeling the pinch.A fuming Mamata soon revived a draft 2010 legislation brought in by the then Left Front government to regulate the state’s private hospitals. Interestingly, at the time, the TMC had vociferously opposed the bill and ensured that it was shelved. Seven years on, Mamata and her government have come back with a new law, one that is way more stringent than anything the Left Front had envisaged.The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill 2017, enacted by the state assembly on March 3, not just provides for compensation to victims but also jail terms and cancellation of licences in instances of deficient medical care or negligence in treatment.Preceding the legislation, Mamata had reportedly castigated the heads of private hospitals for fleecing hapless patients at a February 22 meeting which lasted two hours. Mamata’s diatribe was based on shocking revelations made in a survey of 942 private hospitals by a standing committee on health.It revealed that hospitals prescribe unnecessary high-end medicines, investigations and treatment, force doctors to stagger patient release and there were even cases where patients were put on life-support just to inflate the bill. “Everybody is complaining about exorbitant bills. A hospital is not a slaughterhouse or factory,” the CM told the hospital honchos.advertisementAn 11-member regulatory commission, constituted to implement the law, has been given quasi-judicial powers to fix rates for treatment (including package rates) and monitor details of billing. The commission will adjudicate on cases of lapses in treatment and award time-bound compensations of up to Rs 10 lakh (in cases of death).Tampering of patient records can now result in attachment of assets, cash penalties of up to Rs 50 lakh and cancellation of licence of the concerned hospital. In specific instances, the commission can also initiate criminal prosecution.There are 2,088 private medical establishments in Bengal with an estimated investment of Rs 2 lakh crore. Those associated with the sector say the new law will serve a “death blow” to private healthcare in the state.The legislation has found overwhelming support, including from Opposition parties. Biswanath Chakrabarty, political analyst and professor at the Rabindra Bharati University, believes this singular act could help Mamata reap political gains amid urban voters who have hitherto remained aloof.
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