Can the Government hospital and services provided by them be added under Consumer Protection Act?
Consumer Protection Act, 1986 under Section 2 (1)(0) given the definition for the word “service”. According to the said definition, service of any kind which was received by the potential users includes banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical and other energy, board or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information, but not the service that rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service. The Constitution of India recognized the right to own good health as a fundamental right of every citizen. Also Act defined the service and provided remedies against deficiency in service. Therefore, Consumer forums from District to National Level considered that medical services come under the purview of Act. The Supreme Court by its judgment in Indian Medical Association vs. V.P. Shantha (AIR 1996 SC 550) brought medical services under the scope of the Consumer Protection Act despite various objections made by Indian Medical Association. In the said judgment, it was held that medical practitioners, Government hospitals/nursing homes and private hospitals/nursing homes fall in three categories: –
i) where services are rendered free of charge to everybody availing services
ii) where charges are required to be paid by everybody availing services
iii) where charges are required to be paid by persons availing services but certain categories of persons who cannot afford to pay are rendered service free of charges.
The first category, hospitals or doctors providing services free of charge would not fall under Section 2 (1)(o). However, the second and third category wherein the doctors and hospitals that provide their service on payment by the patients, fall under ambit of Section 2(1) (o).
In the same judgment, it was held that service rendered by a medical practitioner (except where the doctor renders service free of charge to every patient or under a contract of personal service), by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, both medicinal and surgical, would fall within the ambit of ‘service’ under Section 2(1) (o) of the Act. Also, held that a medical practitioner who renders service under “Contract for personal service” which means absence of relationship of master and servant between patient and medical practitioner, not excluded from the purview of “service” defined under Section 2(1) (o). When there is a relationship exists between patient and medical practitioner, then such contract is called Contract of Personal Service, would be outside the purview of ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act.
by Adv. Anitha Gutti