The Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation Act) Bill, 2010 -- approved by the Union Cabinet last month — makes it mandatory for all clinical establishments to provide medical care and treatment to stabilise any person in an emergency condition.

If the Bill is passed in Parliament, this will be the first time emergency medical care is made obligatory under law in the country.

While there is no provision for imprisonment for non-compliance, the registering authority can impose a heavy fine -- up to Rs. 5 lakh -- on the erring establishment. If it fails to pay, the fine will be recovered as arrears of land revenue.

In 1989, the Supreme Court gave directions that emergency care be not denied to victims under any circumstances. The Law Commission also recommended legislation to make it mandatory.

Accident victims are often referred to government hospitals from private facilities to avoid legal hassles. Also, women are turned away from private hospitals and nursing homes if they fail to deposit money in advance.

As per the Bill, all clinical establishments will be required to register themselves with the State Council for Clinical Establishments. These include hospitals, maternity homes, nursing homes, dispensaries, clinics and similar facilities with beds that offer diagnosis, treatment or care for illness or injury or pregnancy under any recognised system (allopathy, Yoga, naturopathy, Ayurveda, Homoeopathy, Siddha and Unani). Clinical establishments also include any laboratory (an independent entity or part of an establishment) which offers pathological, bacteriological, genetic, radiological, chemical, biological and other diagnostic or investigative services.

Whether the establishment is owned by the government or a department of the government, a trust (public or private), a corporation (including a cooperative society), a local authority or an individual, registration will be compulsory. The clinical establishments of the armed forces have been excluded from the purview of the proposed legislation.

The legislation will help in addressing unregulated growth of the private sector, often accused of inadequate treatment, excessive use of higher technology, medical malpractices and negligence. It would also empower the State governments or the Registering Authority to direct any clinical establishment to furnish details, statistics or any other information. This would be extremely useful for monitoring outbreaks of diseases.

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