It is Illegal for Hospitals to Detain Patients for Failure to Pay Hospital Bills

By: Isha Baguma 

A few days ago a patient was reported to have been in detention at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) for a period of one and a half weeks for failure to pay the medical bills a tune of 19.5 million.

Whereas this may not be the first time hospitals, viagra 60mg hotels and lodges have detained their own clients for failure to pay bills the same has become a country wide practice to an extent of being acceptable as legal and infact most Ugandans think such entities do have a right to do so, well that’s not the case.

The law both at national and international level recognizes an individual’s right to personal liberty i.e. freedom of movement and of course this right not being absolute the same can only be derogated under the circumstances as indicated under article 23 (1) of the constitution of Uganda but that doesn’t include settling a civil debt arising from failure to perform a contractual obligation without an order of court i.e.  hospital bills for as the law of recovery of contractual debts is well indicated in the civil laws

There are several international instruments that allude to the same that is Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) specifically under Article 11 which is to the effect that no one shall be imprisoned merely on failure to fulfil a contractual obligation right.

The deprivation of an individual’s liberty is one not to be treated with haste it’s the most sacred and sacrosanct one that shouldn’t be easily taken away I can’t imagine if a manager of a hotel or hospital was legally armored with such rights to detain his/her guests or patients until they paid their bills which entirely categorizes them as the judges and jury in their own cause, what would happen incase they fail to pay the bills? Wouldn’t this make the victims detainees for life? Couldn’t we see hospitals turning into detention centers.

Sure the hospitals or hotels detaining the individual will allege they are doing it in accordance to their company policies but the law of the nation is clear that the right to one’s liberty shall not be limited except by law and only to the extent such limitation is reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society.

It’s also worth noting that the constitution of Uganda is the supreme law of the land and binds all persons (natural or artificial i.e. corporate entities) for that matter any company policy such as one of detaining a patient till they pay the medical bills is illegal, unconstitutional and invalid for failure to meet the constitutional master


In conclusion what appears to be an acceptable practice is in fact illegal and victims of the same can successfully sue those responsible for false imprisonment and be awarded damages or even be compensated for the embarrassment and distress caused as a result of such detention.

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