For three nights now, Mr Joseph Thatia has been sleeping under bed number 26 in Ward 6C at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
He was discharged from the orthopaedic ward on July 12, but he can’t leave because he has a bill of Sh83,000.
Some of his fellow detainees have been lucky to share a bed with other patients, but the unlucky ones like Mr Thatia sleep on the floor or wait for daybreak.
“All the beds are always occupied. For two days I have slept under the bed on the bare floor, without even a blanket. In this cold and rainy weather, I am afraid we will get seriously sick if nothing is done about our situation,” he said yesterday.
Mr Thatia, a boda boda rider, was involved in an accident in May and was brought to the hospital by well-wishers.
After 17 weeks of treatment, he was discharged, but he can’t leave. He passes the time on the corridors with his fellow detainees and seeks solace in the ward at night.
On Monday, doctors came to the ward and asked those who had been discharged to step out, so that they could count the number of patients who were still receiving treatment.
“When we came back, our beds had new occupants, but we were not told where to go. At the same time, we can’t leave the hospital because we don’t have a discharge sheet,” a forlorn Mr Thatia told the Nation, adding that 18 patients stepped out, but only eight came back. The whereabouts of the other 10 remain unknown.
Another person who suffers the same fate is Mr David Munyao, who was discharged on June 21.
He has been thrown out of the ward several times, but he can’t go home until his bill is settled. On Monday, he was thrown out of the ward and told to look for somewhere else to sleep.
“There is nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. Why can’t they just let us go home? They don’t want us here anyway,” lamented Mr Munyao, who was admitted to the hospital in January and owes Sh347,000.
“I am the breadwinner. The longer I am detained here, the worse the situation for my family. If they let me go, I’ll be able to get back on my feet and start paying the bill,” added the former G4S employee.
The two are a representation of several cases of hospitals detaining patients for failure to pay their bills. They are now appealing to the hospital to let them go home.
They are willing to sign written agreements on how to settle the bill with the hospital.
When reached for comment, KNH CEO Thomas Mutie said he was not aware of the cases. “We don’t detain patients. I have to investigate why they are still in the hospital,” he said.
RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
Legal experts have previously warned that detaining patients over medical bills violates their rights and freedoms, but hospitals continue with the practice anyway.
A recent study by UK-based Chatham House noted that Kenya is one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the practice is widespread.
“Patient detention deters healthcare use, increases impoverishment and is a denial of international human rights standards, including the right not to be imprisoned as a debtor and the right to access to medical care,” the study notes.