A number of major hospitals across the world are reportedly detaining patients who are unable to settle their medical bills.
These hospitals many in Africa are reportedly operating a policy of “if you don’t pay up, you don’t go home”, AP reports.
According to an AP report published on Thursday, patients “imprisonments in hospitals” take place “in at least 30 other countries, including Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo”.
In Congo’s second city of Lubumbashi, AP said it “visited more than 20 hospitals and clinics and found that all but one routinely detained patients who failed to pay, even though the practice is illegal there.”
The Kenyatta National Hospital in Kenya is another notable facility where detaining patients unable to settle their medical bills is a norm.
AP reports that its investigations showed that several patients have been prevented from even leaving the facility to seek help in settling their bills.
Detention worsens health conditions
The investigative report published by AP referred to a patient called Robert Wanyonyi who was “shot and paralyzed in a robbery more than a year ago”.
The Kenyatta hospital according to the news media “will not allow him to leave the hospital because he cannot pay his bill of nearly 4 million Kenyan shillings ($39,570).”
Some of the patients who could have sort further medical attention for their conditions elsewhere are also trapped due to non-payment of their outstanding bills.
Wanyonyi for instance the report said “is trapped in his fourth-floor bed, unable to go to India, where he believes doctors might help him.”
Many hospitals in Africa are said to be engaging in this practice using illegal means to detain patients. In some instances, bodies of patients who eventually die from illnesses are detained until bills are cleared by relatives.
AP reports that at the Kenyatta Hospital “mothers and babies are sometimes separated. Even death does not guarantee release”.
A government official told the AP that “Kenyan hospitals and morgues are holding hundreds of bodies until families can pay their loved ones’ bills.”
Hospitals claim to be helpless
Dr. Festus Njuguna, a pediatric oncologist at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, told the AP that “the institution regularly holds children with cancer who have finished their treatment, but whose parents cannot pay.”
He is quoted as saying that “It’s not a very good feeling for the doctors and nurses who have treated these patients, to see them kept like this”.
Leedy Nyembo-Mugalu administrator of Congo’s Katuba Reference Hospital told the AP “We can’t just let people leave if they don’t pay. No one ever comes back to pay their bill a month or two later.”
In many African countries, hospital officials sometimes refuse to even attend to patients if they are unable to make initial payments for services.
AP published a selection of some of the hospital detention records it obtained. https://www.documentcloud.org/search/projectid:41082-Hospital-Hostages
Dr. Agnes Soucat of WHO said to the AP that the U.N. agency was aware of hospital detentions and confirmed they happened “quite frequently.”
“We do not support this in any way, but the problem has been documenting where it happens,” said Soucat, director of WHO’s department of health systems, financing and governance.
It appears resolving this major crisis could be daunting for activists. Patients without money to settle their bills will either die or be imprisoned at health facilities.