Detaining patients illegal, court declares

A patient has no obligation to pay a hospital for the period he or she is detained for failing to foot a medical bill.

The declaration was made by High Court judge Weldon Korir in a case filed by Emma Muthoni against Nairobi Women’s Hospital for detaining her over Sh1.7 million bill.

Ms Muthoni spent two months at the city hospital and her bill was Sh3 million. At the time she was discharged on May 14, 2018, the bill had shot to Sh4 million.


When she sued the hospital, it filed a counter-suit seeking to recover Sh1 million more from her. The amount arose from the detention time.

Thursday, Justice Korir found that the hospital was at fault for breaching Muthoni’s rights and awarded her Sh3 million.

“A declaration is hereby issued that the respondent, by unlawfully detaining the petitioner when she failed to pay her medical bills, infringed on her constitutional rights,” the judge ruled.

The woman will, however, get Sh1.2 million after the court deducted Sh1.7 million balance for the hospital bill.

“The petitioner has an obligation to pay her medical bill. I have already determined that the bill, when she was discharged, was Sh3 million and there is undisputed evidence that the petitioner paid Sh1.2 million, leaving Sh1.7 million. She is under no obligation to pay any expenses incurred by the respondent in connection with her unlawful detention,” ruled Justice Korir.

He added: “No one should be compensated for expenses incurred in perpetuation of an unconstitutional act.”

In the case, Muthoni explained that she was taken to Nairobi Women’s Hospital on March 23 after suffering stroke. She was supposed to be discharged on May 14, 2018, but could not offset the entire bill.

The hospital urged the judge to dismiss the case, saying Muthoni did not approach the court with clean hands as she had not cleared the medical bill.

This is not the first time the court is punishing hospitals for turning their wards into detention centres.

High Court judge Mumbi Ngugi, in a case where Pumwani Hospital had been sued after detaining two patients who could not raise delivery bills, ordered the Health ministry to take necessary administrative, legislative, and policy measures to eradicate such incidents.

The case was filed by Maimuna Awuor and Margret Oliele, who narrated untold pain in the hands of hospital staff after they failed to pay their bills.

On September 17, 2015, Justice Ngugi not only awarded the two Sh1.5 million each damages, but also ordered for drastic measures. “I declare that the Kenyan government must take the necessary steps to protect all patients from arbitrary detention in healthcare facilities, which includes enacting laws and policies, and taking affirmative steps to prevent future violations,” the judge ruled.

On September 20, 2010, Maimuna went to a clinic in Eastleigh, Nairobi, to deliver her fifth child.

She had chosen the facility because she knew the cost of delivery would not exceed Sh1,000.

Maimuna was told she had a complication and was referred to the Pumwani Maternity Hospital.

Upon arrival at the referral hospital, she was asked to pay Sh3,600, but she only had Sh1,000.

Maimuna gave birth to a baby girl and did not have any complication. She spent the night at the hospital and was discharged the next day, but could only raise Sh2,600.

She was detained for 24 days. According to the woman, the ward in which she was detained was next to a toilet that would occasionally flood. She only had one bedsheet and one thin blanket.

And despite having given birth, she was never examined by any doctor to ascertain her health status.

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