India is currently in the middle of a 40 days lock down imposed by the Central government due to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. There were already shortages of protective health gear, low-quality protection equipment was being given to the doctors and to add to the misery of the doctors there are now cases of violence against the healthcare staff. The doctors and staff have been working day and night to cure every patient suffering from the disease and this is what they are getting in return. However, this coronavirus outbreak has posed a unique situation where violence against medical professionals have been reported from different parts of the including even cremation grounds.
Doctor’s at Gandhi hospital in Hyderabad were attacked on April 1st after a patient with multiple illnesses died of coronavirus. A team of health officials was pelted with stones in Indore leading to two women doctors getting injured. In Moradabad, a team of doctors and medical staff was attacked by a mob in Nawabganj area after they had gone to quarantine a family which had lost two members to COVID-19. In Chennai, the cremation of a doctor who died of COVID-19 met with opposition from locals. Indian doctors over recent weeks have even endured campaigns from their neighbours who were forcing them out of the apartment buildings. The situation is so bad for them that have been beaten with batons by the police on the way back home from an emergency shift.
Due to all these incidents the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said in an official statement that they want a Central law against violence on Doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and Hospitals. The IMA warned that they will silently protest by lighting a candle on the 22nd of April and they will observe ‘Black Day’ on April 23rd where all the doctors in the country will work with black badges, if no action is taken by the government. This plan was however let go by the IMA after Home Minister Amit Shah, appealed to the IMA assured them of safety and support.
ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST HEALTH WORKERS IN INDIA:
Doctors in India are facing violent-acts against them, and there is an increasing trend in recent years, leading to a Public Health Riot-like scenario in India. There are reports of a doctor being murdered, thrashed, beaten, injured, handicapped, harassed, threatened, and socially maligned with news of demeaning messages spreading such as wild-fire through social media and news channels. More alarming is that common people are justifying the acts of killing, beating, and provoking others to do more such acts, thereby triggering a vicious cycle. Most of them get away without any legal proceedings being instituted against them. Healthcare professionals in India face violence in the form of physical/ verbal abuse, aggressive gesture, blackmailing, mob lynching and cyber bullying.
On 11 June 2019, incidence of grievous injury to two junior doctors at NRS Medical College, Kolkata, drew National and International attention. More recently, a retired senior doctor volunteering part-time at a tea estate of Assam was killed by a mob. In an incident in June 2019, a case was registered against a 17-year-old boy and his friend for allegedly assaulting a doctor at a hospital in Maharashtra after his father died during treatment. The administration of the Kaushal Sharma Hospital filed a police complaint in April 2019, against the relative of a patient after he slapped a doctor. The violence against doctor is increasing year by year with 10 major cases reported in 2019 itself.
The main reason attributed to violence against healthcare staff is the lack of economic investment in healthcare. The lack of funds spent on healthcare infrastructure results in ill functional healthcare services. Small and medium private healthcare establishments are isolated and disorganized, and they provide a big share of healthcare services. All these factors cause dissatisfaction among the public, which leads to them taking out their frustration on the doctors.
The other factors that attribute to violence against doctors are, absence of post graduate training in emergency medicine, poor quality of emergency care, poor image of doctors portrayed by the media, lack of people’s faith in the judicial process. Lack of security poor emergency network among hospitals, poor communication skills of healthcare workers, lack of proper training of healthcare staff with a high patient load, and political interference in hospital affairs are also few of the factors that result in violence against doctors.
HOW DID THE GOVERNMENT REACT?
The council of minister on the 2nd of April approved the promulgation of an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which made acts of violence against medical staff a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 proposes that in cases of attacks on healthcare workers, the investigation will be completed within 30 days and the final decision arrived at within one year.
The term ‘acts of violence’ in the amendment includes harm, injury, hurt, intimidation or danger to the life of such healthcare personnel either within the premises of a clinical establishment or otherwise and damage to any property or documents. Harassment impacting the living or working conditions of such healthcare service personnel and preventing them from discharging duties have been included.
The penal provisions can be invoked in instances of damage to any facility identified for quarantine and isolation of patients, and any other property in which the healthcare service personnel have direct interest in relation to the epidemic.
The punishment for such attacks will be 3 months to 5 years plus fine ranging from ₹50,000 to ₹2 lakh. In cases of grievous injuries, the punishment will be 6 months to 7 years and with fine ranging from ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh. The ordinance also provides compensation for injury to healthcare personnel or for damage or loss to property.
Violence against doctors behaves ill for society. Due to the increasing number of cases every year there was an urgent need to make healthcare facilities a safe environment. That is why this amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was the need of the hour as now acts of violence against the health workers from doctors to the staff have now been criminalized and any person committing such act will be punished severely under law. there can be no compromise on the safety of healthcare professionals and therefore the ordinance will protect the entire healthcare fraternity, including doctors, nurses and Asha workers.
OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat