Drunk drivers, alcohol-using patients to be charged according to degree of hospital treatment

By Mirudhula Thambiah

From February, there will be no free treatment at government hospitals for persons seeking treatment for alcohol-induced diseases or ailments, or persons who have suffered a mishap or accident as a result of being under the influence of liquor.

The Ministry of Health will be issuing a circular giving the hospital charges for treatment in such cases.
Persons involved in accidents under the influence of liquor will be charged according to the treatment given, according to a Ministry spokesman. The patient will be charged for the full range of treatment received, starting on the day the patient was admitted. Charges will vary according to the degree of treatment.

“The patient will be discharged only after all hospital bills and medical charges are paid,” the spokesman said.

“The majority of road traffic accidents occur at night, and these are usually the result of drunk driving. And it has been found that most night-time road accidents involve persons from an affluent background. The Ministry therefore does not think that charging such persons should be an issue.”

Colombo National Hospital director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe said patients suspected of being alcohol addicts or believed to be under the influence of alcohol would be tested on admission. “If the test is positive, the patient will be charged a nominal sum initially,” he said. Receipts will be issued.

“By imposing charges, the Ministry hopes to discourage people from drinking and raise awareness of the dangers and ill effects of alcohol consumption,” Dr. Weerasinghe said. “The state should not have to pay the medical bills of a person who knows he has got into trouble because of his drink or alcohol problem.”

Dr. Weerasinghe said the number of road accidents has gone up by 10 to 15 per cent, and that many of the accidents were the result of drunk driving.

Kalubowila Teaching Hospital director Dr. Anil Jasinghe said the Ministry decision was part of a national strategy to reduce alcoholism. He pointed to the number of road traffic accidents that occur during the festive season, most of them occurring at night and most of them caused by liquor consumption. Meanwhile, the Registrar of the Sri Lanka Medical Council said the confidentiality of the patient was a concern, and that the Ministry had not consulted the council on this matter.

Lawyer and human rights champion J. C. Weliamuna said the Ministry decision was “irrational and arbitrary”, and had no legal basis. “It is discrimination and cannot be accepted by any civil society,” he said. “How can the government justify the sale of liquor, from which it gets revenue, and then introduce such a policy?”

Attorney-at-law and Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran said the Ministry decision was a violation of the Constitution.

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