The Bombay high court on Tuesday said hospitals cannot detain patients for non-payment of bills. “If a patient does not pay, it can’t be that the hospital detains him. It is an offence. It is unauthorised detention. In such case criminal law will have to be set in motion,” said a bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Prakash Naik. They heard a suo motu public interest litigation following two cases where patients were detained over disputed bills. The state’s advocate said the Maharashtra Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill 2014 has been notified and suggestions and objections were invited from the public. But advocate Diwakar Dwivedi, who appeared for the petitioners in those two cases, said, “Even if the Bill is passed, it will not protect patients.” He explained that it was about the registration of hospitals except for section 34 (3), which says that patients may approach the authorities with their grievances. The judges said there was another aspect. “By the very nature of the Bill, what control the state can have,” said Justice Oka. The judges said the main issue was “not allowing patients to move out of hospitals so far as bills are not paid”. The advocate for the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC), which claims to represent 8,000 doctors and 1,500 hospitals/nursing homes, said in principle its members do not support detaining patients. “But at the same time some viable solution must be found to strike a balance,” he said, adding that there has to be some mechanism for recovering payment. The judges said that hospitals will have to resort to remedies in law. The bench asked if the AMC would issue a resolution not to detain patients. “Will you pass a resolution that no member will indulge in such a thing?” asked Justice Oka. The judges said AMC’s stand had to be very clear. The Medical Council of India’s advocate said it felt any dispute had to be resolved by some authority or council which can look into the matter within seven days. The next hearing is on April 13.