When hospitals become debtors' prisons

Robert Yates and Eloise Whitaker on the scandal of detaining patients who cannot afford medical fees

The World Today Updated 18 November 2020 Published 12 February 2018 3 minute READ

Robert Yates

Former Executive Director, Centre for Universal Health; Director, Global Health Programme

Eloise Whitaker

Former Fellow, Improving Global Health through Leadership Development Programme, Thames Valley and Wessex NHS Leadership Academy

Hospitals should be places that improve well-being, where people feel safe and are free to leave at the end of their treatment. Sadly, this is often not always the case. In some parts of the world, people are detained for months for not being able to pay their medical bills or are refused care when they can no longer pay.

This practice is particularly prevalent in some sub-Saharan countries, but also occurs in Asian countries where there is poor access to affordable healthcare. Hospital detentions contravene several international laws and represent a gross violation of human rights, especially as many detainees suffer abuse during their enforced hospital stay.

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