Sat. Feb 16th, 2019

Motion initiated to illegalize patient detention over bills

Kenyans who die while seeking treatment will have their medical fees, which at times runs into millions of shillings, waived if a push by two legislators get the nod of the House.

MPs Mohamed Ali (Nyali) and Jared Okelo (Nyando) have separately initiated motions to have the government compel public health facilities to forfeit all bills accrued during treatment when one dies.

While Ali has come up with a motion to have the hospital bills waived, his Nyando counterpart has proposed an amendment to the Health Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, to not only have the bills forfeited but also outlaw detention of patients.

The lawmakers, citing Article 43 of the Constitution, say every Kenyan has a right to the highest attainable standard of health and any detention of patients or bodies is a breach of the law.

“Medical fee in private health facilities is very expensive and out of reach of the common man. That’s why they resort to healthcare from public hospitals, which many Kenyans still can’t afford,” Ali’s motion reads.

“This Parliament should compel the government to scrap all medical fees for patients who die while receiving treatment in public hospitals.”

Detention of patients and bodies is a common practice in both private and public hospitals. In many instances, it takes months or years.

Last month, Okelo proposed a raft of amendments to the Health Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, illegalising any form of patient or bodies’ detention. He seeks a relook at the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Act to compel a health facility or staff to pay up to Sh5 million fine or serve a jail term of up to five years for detaining bodies or patients.

The proposed amendments, however, root for a mutually agreed arrangement of clearing any pending fee without resorting to detention of either the patient or a body.

“No health institution in the country shall detain or otherwise cause, directly or indirectly, the detention of the body of a patient who died after or during treatment for reasons of nonpayment, in part or in full, of hospital bills or any other medical expenses,” the proposed amendments read.

Okelo argued that detention of patients violates their fundamental rights and freedoms.

A study published by Chatham House’s Centre on Global Health Security in the UK last year ranked Kenya among the most notorious countries in detaining patients unable to settle medical bills.

Other African countries were DR Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

“Patient detention deters healthcare use, increases medical impoverishment, and is a denial of international human rights standards, including the right not to be imprisoned as a debtor and the right to access medical care,” the study findings revealed.

It noted that victims tend to be the poorest members of society, who have been admitted to hospital for emergency treatment. Many of them are subject to verbal or physical abuse during detention.

“At the root of this problem is the persistence of health financing systems that require people to make high out-of-pocket payments when they need healthcare, and inadequate governance systems that allow facilities to detain patients,” the report added.