LAHORE - In what can be termed the most people-friendly gesture, the Supreme Court ordered the private hospitals on Sunday not to charge patients more than the rate set by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council for treatment.

A large number of people go to private hospitals because of overcrowding in government hospitals and availability of better facilities there. However, there are complaints that the private hospitals charge the patients very heavily because of which they are out of the reach of people with average resources.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, while hearing a case against private hospital owners for charging excessive fees from patients for medical treatment, told Doctors Hospital and Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Ghazanfar Ali Shah to close his medical facility if he could not serve the public.

Doctors Hospital is a private facility in the city, whose CEO appeared in court in compliance with the summons issued a day before.

At the hearing, the chief justice observed that owners of private hospitals were charging patients over Rs100,000 to implant stents despite orders of charging “within the limit”.

Justice Nisar asked the Doctors Hospital CEO how their facility could overrule court orders and charge extra fees.

A patient, admitted to the hospital for 30 days, is handed a bill of Rs4 million, said an angry Justice Nisar.

He added that people from low-income backgrounds should also be considered while setting such high charges on medical treatment.

The court will announce a verdict if private hospitals do not review their rates, the chief justice observed.

The director general of Lahore Development Authority, who was also present at the court, complained against Doctors Hospital saying the facility was established on a residential plot.

He added commercial activity of the hospital was underway on a one-kanal residential plot.

Meanwhile, the apex court also ordered forensic audit of Nestle mineral water operations.

The bench appointed Kokab Jamal as the forensic auditor and sought a report within 15 days regarding cost, rates and others.

The bench also ordered checking the quality of all major mineral water brands.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, passed the order while hearing a suo motu notice regarding alleged exploitation of groundwater resources without any charges and its fitness for human consumption.

At the outset of proceedings, the chief executive officers/ representatives of major mineral water companies appeared before the bench on being summoned.

The chief justice noted that the companies were paying almost nothing as tariff for extracting groundwater, but they were selling their bottled water at exorbitant rates.

He said the companies should sit with the government and decide an appropriate rate, adding that the WASA board had already suggested an increase in the tariff.

He said that Nestle earned six billion rupees in profit last year.

Aitzaz Ahsan, on behalf of Nestle, requested for one-month time for submitting proposals on the matter.

However, the chief justice declined the request and ordered forensic audit of Nestle mineral water and sought report within 15 days.

He also observed that big societies, including Bahria Town, get water from ground and charge the residents for the same.

These societies do not pay the government reasonably.

COMMERCIALISATION OF

PROPERTIES BANNED

The Supreme Court (SC) Sunday banned commercialisation of all sorts of properties in the city, an order which practically reverses the policy pursued by the previous government.

The two-judge bench that took up the matter hinted at forming a larger bench for hearing the matter and observed that commercialisation policy could be struck down.

The court also called for all relevant record from the LDA.

The bench comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan passed the order while hearing a suo motu notice regarding overcharging, lack of facilities, negligence on the part of private hospitals.

The bench took notice of the commercialisation issue after it was pointed out that some city hospitals had violated the LDA rules and residential areas were being used without getting approval from the authority.

The bench expressed its deep concern over irregular commercialisation being carried out in the city, saying residential areas were being converted into commercial ones.

Earlier, representatives/ CEOs of major private hospitals - Doctors Hospital, Hameed Latif Hospital, Surgimed Hospital, Umar Hospital, and others - appeared before the bench on being summoned and submitted their price lists for services being provided by them.

They submitted that they were providing healthcare facilities on cheaper rates than other countries.

The LDA director general, who was also present in the court, apprised the bench of various irregularities committed by some hospitals.

Secretary EPA also informed the bench that many hospitals situated near drains had not sought the EPA permission.

The chief justice observed that if private hospitals could not provide medical treatment on reasonable rates then they should be closed. Even mineral water bottles were being sold at higher rates in hospitals, he added.

The chief justice observed that the owners of private hospitals charge patients over Rs 100,000 to implant stents despite the court orders about charging patients reasonably.

He remarked that the court did not want to close down their businesses, but hospitals should also mend their ways; otherwise, the court would issue its order.

The chief justice remarked that private hospitals could not be given unlimited freedom. Subsequently, the bench adjourning the further hearing asked the EPA and the LDA for reports, besides stopping commercialisation.