Adopt patient rights charter

The union health ministry has made a welcome initiative by proposing a charter of rights for patients who are now disadvantaged and exploited in many ways.

The union health ministry has made a welcome initiative by proposing a charter of rights for patients who are now disadvantaged and exploited in many ways. The draft charter, which was prepared by the National Human Rights Commission, contains 17 rights and five responsibilities, and has been put up on the ministry’s website. The government wants to adopt the charter after finalising it on the basis of comments and suggestions received from the public and other interested sections such as medical professionals. Many countries have strong charters that guarantee and protect the rights of patients, formulated on the basis of the UN’s universal declaration of human rights. These rights do exist in India as rights under the Constitution, the Indian Medical Council (IMC) regulations, the Consumer Protection Act, etc. The proposed charter codifies them into one single document with special reference to the needs of patients. 

The charter is very relevant when medical care has become highly commercialised. The public sector has taken a back seat and the private sector dominates the field. Patients get a raw deal in small clinics and big hospitals and in diagnostic labs, whether government-owned or private. The charter lays down that the patient will have the right to treatment without discrimination of the basis of religion, caste, sexual orientation, etc., the right to emergency treatment, the right to know and the right to privacy with respect to one’s own treatment. Patients can claim the details of their treatment as a right. They will also have the right to information about the cost of treatment and the right to have their medicines procured and tests done outside the hospitals. These are all areas where patients are short-changed and exploited. The charter also includes the right to safety and quality of care, the right to informed consent and the right to second opinion. 

Rights always go with responsibilities, and so the charter enumerates them, too. They include the need to give full details of the illness to the doctor and to follow treatment plans. The charter is comprehensive enough to cover all the areas of concern for the patients. Patients need support because they are not organised and are vulnerable and have to deal with an establishment that can dictate terms and is more resourceful. It must be ensured that the charter is not diluted under pressure from any quarters. Even when it is adopted, it will take time for it to be internalised and to become an effective guideline for both patients and medical establishments. It should help patients to gain awareness of their rights and lead the medical establishment to respect those rights. 

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Adopt patient rights charter

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