The Delhi High Court on Thursday said it was "inhumane" to keep thousands of ICU beds reserved in private hospitals for COVID-19 patients when the positivity rate of the infection and number of coronavirus cases was going down in the national capital. Justice Navin Chawla said that in the prevailing situation today keeping so many ICU beds reserved for COVID-19 patients "cannot be sustained" and if in future there was an increase in COVID-19 cases, then the reservations can be brought back.
The observations by the court came after hearing submissions by senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for Association of Healthcare Providers, who placed before it data regarding number of cases, positivity rate, number of vacant ICU beds from the time the Delhi government passed the order reserving 80 per cent ICU beds in private hospitals till December 23 when an expert panel recommended reduction of the reservation to 60 per cent.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain and additional standing counsel Sanjoy Ghose, appearing for the Delhi government, told the court that no decision has been taken on the recommendation of the De-escalation Committee (COVID-19) which was constituted to assess the current position of hospital admissions and discharges and recommend reduction in the number of beds dedicated for coronavirus patients, if required.
Jain said a decision would be taken after consulting two more experts — doctors — and the association can also make a representation if it wants to. Singh said the association has placed its case before the court and it was not going to make any representations to the government.
The court, however, said that the note submitted before it by Singh containing all the data about changes in COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and vacant ICU beds from September 12 till December 23 in the national capital, was "important material" which ought to be considered by the Delhi government before taking a final decision on the committee's recommendations. The court also said that the decision taken by Delhi government, also represented by advocate Urvi Mohan, be placed before it on the next date of hearing — December 28.
It was hearing a plea by the association seeking quashing of the Delhi government's September 12 order to reserve 80 per cent ICU beds for COVID-19 patients in 33 private hospitals here. The September 12 order of the Delhi government was earlier stayed by the high court on September 22.
However, a division of the high court on November 12 vacated the stay order taking into account the change in circumstances since the time the stay order was passed. During the several hours long hearing of the matter on Thursday, Singh contended that the September 12 order of the Delhi government reserving 80 per cent ICU beds in 33 private hospitals in the city was a "populist measure".
He said that the Delhi government took the decision without considering its financial or economic implications on the private hospitals whose ICU beds mostly remained vacant and also resulted in depriving treatment to non-COVID patients. He said that if more than 2,000 ICU beds were vacant in Delhi government hospitals, there was no need to reserve ICU beds in private hospitals.
Singh also contended that the private hospitals were not compensated in any manner for the economic loss suffered by them by keeping the ICU beds reserved or vacant for COVID-19 patients. Jain, during the hearing, contended that no patient has come forward saying he or she was denied treatment due to reservation of beds for COVID-19 patients in the 33 hospitals.
He also said that the mutated strain found in the UK and a new strain of the virus discovered in South Africa were also concerning the government and therefore, the situation can only be anticipated and a decision taken accordingly. He also said that during the pandemic a hospital cannot lay emphasis on commercial gains.