New Delhi, Sep 22 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Tuesday came down heavily on the AAP government for its decision directing 33 private hospitals to reserve 80 per cent of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, and sought to know if other patients had a right to life.
Prima facie Delhi government's order “appears to be arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of fundamental rights of citizens” guaranteed under the Constitution, Justice Navin Chawla said.
Annoyed, the judge said: “Do other patients have a right to life or not or is it now that the state says only COVID-19 patients have a right to life. This is making my blood boil. The patient is not going there for a holiday, he is going there in an emergency.
“Why do you (Delhi government) discriminate between the two (COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients). Why do you have to keep an ICU bed vacant for COVID-19 patient and the other one in need can die? A person has got a heart attack and you are saying he should die on the road.” Questioning it over discriminating between patients in emergency, the high court stayed the Delhi government’s September 13 order which directed all the private hospitals with 50 beds or more to reserve at least 80 per cent of their total ICU capacity for COVID-19 patients.
The court issued notices and sought responses of the Delhi government and the Centre on a plea by 'Association of Healthcare Providers' to quash the order.
“The operation of the order shall remain stayed till the next date of the hearing,” the court said and listed the matter for further hearing on October 16.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing the association, said the 33 private hospitals are its members and the Delhi government’s order shall be quashed as it was passed in an irrational manner and is ex-facie perverse.
He said the order has to stayed immediately as it puts someone’s life in danger and it will be criminal on the part of the hospital to keep an ICU bed vacant and not admit the non-COVID-19 serious patients who are in queue.
Delhi government however defended its decision saying it is only for 33 hospitals and 20 per cent ICU beds remain for the non-COVID-19 serious patients and it has been done keeping in view the sudden spike in cases of the virus.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain and advocate Sanjoy Ghose, appearing for the Delhi government, said the situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is dynamic in nature requiring urgent decision from the authorities.
They said there is no allegation that the government’s decision suffers from mala fide, discrimination and added that this court should not interfere with the September 13 order.
They also said though they do not have an instruction from the government on this but they were making a statement that the situation will be reviewed within one week.
Jain said the hospitals against whom the order has been issued have not come to the court and when the government came to the conclusion that ICU beds need to be increased due to spike in COVID-19 cases, there was no other way to do this as the general facility cannot be converted into ICU beds.
The court said the effect of the government order appeared to be that 80 per cent beds have to be kept reserved for COVID-19 patients and such reservations would prima facie lead to a situation where a patient suffering from other problems other than COVID-19 would be denied admission even though a bed is available.
“This would be clearly a violation of the fundamental right of a person. The state cannot discriminate between a COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients in an emergency. Non-COVID-19 patients cannot be asked to run to another hospital. Diseases cannot be a ground for such discrimination.” the judge said.
The court added that it is not apparent what is the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients which are vacant. However, such a facility cannot be allowed to remain vacant even though there is one patient who could have availed the ICU facility.
It also asked the Delhi government to file an affidavit giving the data of ICU beds and other material which was taken into consideration at the time of taking the decision.
“It is my fundamental right and I should not die because an ICU bed was kept vacant for a COVID-19 patient... I will not let a single patient die because of this. Has the government thought about it? We are here talking about ICU beds. This is just not done,” the judge said.
On September 13, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain had said considering an increase in cases for the last few days, the Department of Health has ordered 33 hospitals to reserve 80 per cent of the total ICU beds available for COVID-19 patients.
'If in some hospitals, non-COVID patients are already admitted, once discharged, the vacant beds will be reserved for COVID patients only,' he had said.
He had reiterated that the hospitals in Delhi that are treating COVID-19 patients are allowed to increase their bed capacity up to 30 per cent which shall only be used for COVID-19 patients. PTI SKV SA