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Supreme Court directs Delhi hospitals to treat poor for free

Hospitals which received sweetheart land deals must offer 10 percent of outpatient, 25 percent of inpatient services for charity patients
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Indian nurses tend to patients at a government hospital in New Delhi on May 12, 2010. May 12 is celebrated as International Nurses Day, honoured on the birthday Florence Nightingale, widely considered to be the founder of modern nursing. (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

India's Supreme Court Thursday directed 10 multi-specialty private hospitals in New Delhi to provide free treatment to poor patients, the Economic Times reports.

Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A.K. Patnaik said the hospitals must provide free treatment to poor patients -- mandating that 10 percent of outpatients and 25 percent of overnight stays must be offered to charity cases.

The order is applicable to 10 hospitals which have been allotted land by the Delhi government at concessional rates, the paper said.

The court direction came after it dismissed petitions by these 10 hospitals challenging the Delhi High Court verdict of March 2007 directing them to provide free treatment to the poor.

As GlobalPost reported in 2009, in a story related to the dispute, India's much-ballyhooed medical tourism business has encouraged wealthy and influential Indians to forget about the crumbling and overburdened government-run health system, because they now believe they have access to the world's best care from private hospitals.

As a result, the Indian government spends only 0.9 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, ranking 171st out of 175 countries in public health spending, according to the World Health Organization. It relies on the private sector, which contributes another 4.3 percent of GDP, to make up the shortfall. So even though state-run hospitals like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) — a renowned center that treats about 3.5 million patients a year for less than a dollar apiece — do their best to care for everybody, the rich and poor alike often turn to private clinics.

Demanding that private hospitals offer services to the poor is one way to begin to address the discrepancy -- though few private hospitals have been set up outside major cities.



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