High Court ignored on detentions

High Court Judge Mumbi Ngugi

The Government has for two years now ignored a High Court order requiring that it sets new laws or policies to prevent arbitrary detention of patients unable to pay hospital bills.

High Court Judge Mumbi Ngugi on September 17, 2015, ordered the Health Ministry to take the necessary administrative, legislative, and policy measures to eradicate the practice of detaining patients who cannot pay their medical bills.

 "I declare that the Kenyan Government must take the necessary steps to protect all patients from arbitrary detention in health care facilities, which includes enacting laws and policies and taking affirmative steps to prevent future violations," Justice Ngugi ruled.

She gave the directive while ruling on a case where Pumwani Hospital had been sued by two mothers who were unable to settle their bills after delivery.

Maimuna Awuor and Margret Oliele narrated their pain at the hands of the hospital's staff after they failed to settle their bills when they were discharged. Justice Ngugi awarded the two Sh1.5 million each and also ordered the authorities to take steps to stop the practice.

It has been left to aggrieved patients and relatives to sue hospitals leading, to awards of millions of shillings.

Cases of detaining patients and bodies affect both public and private hospitals.

On one hand, the hospitals are grappling with a scenario of health care collapse over unpaid debts and on the other they have to save the lives of those brought to them.

 On September 20, 2010, Ms Awuor went to a clinic in Eastleigh in Nairobi to deliver her fifth child.

 She had chosen this facility because she knew that the cost of delivery would not exceed Sh1,000

 At the clinic, the staff member attending to her found that her baby was in a breech position and that she would have a complicated delivery.

 She was, therefored referred to Pumwani Maternity Hospital, where she was asked to pay Sh3,600, but she only had Sh1,000.

 She was also asked to purchase a cup, a plate, and cotton wool. These were later billed to her when she was discharged from the hospital. She was detained for 24 days.