The detention of a baby at the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Burns Unit because of parents’ failure to pay the medical bill points to a pernicious gap in the public healthcare system.
This incident is just one of the many in a growing trend in public and private hospitals, where discharged patients who are unable to settle their bills, are detained under 24-hour guard until they do so.
At face value, one can understand the desperation of the hospitals to have payments for services in full to operate seamlessly.
But detaining patients is not only inhuman but also a grave breach of their rights to liberty and association, besides being a source of psychological torture. It amounts to condemning them unheard.
Every patient looks forward to going back home after being treated and discharged, regardless of how long they have been in hospital. Therefore, it comes as a rude shock and cruel edict to forcibly extend their stay in the ward just because they can’t pay.
The government ought to relook at the operations of the National Hospital Insurance Fund to make it more effective in settling the bills for the genuine cases. Deserving patients can easily be verified in the same way the Higher Education Loans Board determines the amount to lend to students according to their families’ capacity.
While hospitals are, ironically, incurring a heavier financial burden by accommodating people who don’t need to be in the wards, and who end up taking up places meant for deserving cases, some unscrupulous individuals are taking advantage of the situation to feign illness, get admitted to the wards and then feign inability to pay.
They then get to enjoy free shelter, complete with three square meals a day, straining an already exhausted healthcare system.
The Health ministry must put an end to these detentions by determining the patients’ ability to pay long before discharge so that arrangements are made well in advance to sort out genuine cases.
But even as we call for assistance to the genuinely destitute, swindlers who deliberately seek to escape their financial obligations must be punished.