The Sindh High Court (SHC) has observed that the Aga Khan University Hospital’s (AKUH) healthcare facilities are available to every citizen subject to charges on a case-to-case basis.
Dismissing a petition that had sought a direction for the AKUH to provide free medical facilities to the poor, a division bench headed by SHC Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M Sheikh observed that the hospital had been acting within its aims and objectives.
The high court observed that the hospital was a non-profit organisation, the earnings and income of which were being utilised for the purpose of hospital and medical education, satisfying the conditions of the licence.
The high court observed that the AKUH’s counsel had said during the hearing that there were two groups of patients — those who could pay the charges and those who could not. The bench observed that as per the counsel, the first category of patients was fully charged for the treatment and healthcare facilities provided by the hospital to them while the second category was divided into two kinds of patients. The first kind comprised those who had no means to pay the expenses and charges of the hospital and for them, a proper scrutiny was made by the relevant section of the hospital where income and means of impoverished patients were examined and such category of patients were provided full cover.
The high court observed that the second kind of patients in the second category had some means and subsidy to the extent of 35 per cent was extended to them. The bench observed that as per the counsel, the hospital did not return any patient on account of their social status.
The SHC observed that as per material available on record by the hospital, the Sindh government had exempted the hospital from paying property tax. The bench concluded that in view of the above reasons, the petition had no merit. The SHC dismissed the petition and imposed a cost of Rs15,000 on the petitioner to be deposited with the High Court Clinic.
It is pertinent to mention that the petitioner, Dur Mohammad Shah, who is an advocate, had questioned the health facility’s claim of spending over Rs2.4 billion on patients from the patients’ welfare fund.
The counsel had questioned the hospital’s claim of providing welfare to 708,000 patients at a cost of Rs2.4 billion. Shah said it was impossible that the AKUH had provided welfare to 488,000 patients in 2015 and 708,000 patients in 2017, as even the two major government hospitals had not treated as many patients in the past two years.
He said there was a difference between a charitable and a non-profit entity, and the government of Pakistan did not treat the AKUH as a not-for-profit organisation. He added that there was no out-patient welfare mechanism at the hospital as it had no facility to provide patients medical treatment free of charge.
The petitioner maintained that if the AKUH provided free treatment to the poor, it must put up a relevant signboard outside their emergency. He said a physician charged a fee of at least Rs2,400, adding that the welfare process started with the charging of a hefty fee and after completing six different steps, the patient would be able to get admitted to the hospital.
He requested the high court to direct the AKUH to start free in-patient welfare process, where the physician did not charge a fee and would be available round the clock. Shah said in the petition that the AKUH was allotted land by the District East deputy commissioner in the 1980s for the construction of a charitable hospital and medical college, with the condition that no portion of the land “shall be used for commercial purpose”.
He said that under the Section 10(4) of the Colonisation of Government Lands Act, the payment of land revenue annual assessment charges had to be made and recovered from the AKUH and it required a revised assessment on the expiration of the term after 10 years when the settlement of land was executed.
He said that no annual assessment of payment of land revenue on the expiry of 10 years had ever been made or recovered from the hospital by the government; besides, several blocks were being constructed without getting approval from the relevant government agencies.
The petitioner said the AKUH had said on its official website that its patient welfare and Zakat programmes gave financial assistance to patients who were unable to pay the fees, but practically they were charging patients higher fees than those charged by other charitable hospitals.
Shah said the hospital was providing medical facilities to higher-income groups and corporate employees, adding that it was extremely difficult for a common person to get medical treatment at such high charges.
The high court was asked to direct the AKUH to provide medical facility to every poor citizen free of charge in accordance with the agreement for the grant of land to the hospital, and produce the entire record of free medical care it had provided to the citizens. He also sought action over the alleged misuse of land and the hospital’s failure to use the land for charitable purposes.
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