Aastha Bhattacharya, a law student at National Law University, Odisha, India, discusses the alarming surge of violence against doctors in India during the Covid-19 pandemic and suggests ways to counter the issue by enacting stringent laws and adopting stricter guidelines...
The pandemic has created a jigsaw puzzle of fear, anxiety and uncertainty among the patients; however, the doctors during this havoc have tirelessly worked as frontline warriors saving millions of lives while putting theirs at risk. Since the pandemic began, over 1,500 doctors have selflessly sacrificed their lives only to find themselves standing at a threshold where even though they are the frontline brigade battling this healthcare crisis, there is still an alarming increase in the cases of abuse and violence against them.
In June, a video of a young doctor being brutally attacked in Assam, as a result of his patient succumbing to Covid-19, sent shockwaves around the country and angered the medical professionals who went on strike demanding stringent laws to be enacted. The aftermath of the occurrence led to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the nation’s largest coalition of physicians and medical students, calling for a sturdy and air-tight law to counteract medical violence. Even the Supreme Court of India finally admitted to the persistent strain put upon the healthcare professionals during this pandemic and how urgent actions needed to be taken to guarantee their well-being.
According to the World Medical Association, all medical practitioners have the right to work in a safe and secure workplace, one which is free of violence. Meanwhile, in India, there is a stark contrast in reality wherein 75 percent of the doctors encounter certain types of abuse, with 68 percent of the occurrences involving assault by patients’ families.
Regardless of the fact that the Protection of Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention to Violence and Damage to Property) Act 2008 has been enacted by approximately 23 states in India, it has still not been effectively integrated into the administrative machinery and has neither resulted in any fruitful outcome. This is attributed to the reason that the law is not a part of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), making it challenging for the victims to seek assistance and the much-needed guidance from the authorities. As a matter of ground reality, not even 10 percent of the cases filed under this Act make their way to the courts after registration of the preliminary complaint. Owing to the law differing on a state-level basis, there is an urgent requirement for the authorities to not only be informed about the presence of the Act but also be aware of the proper protocols required for investigating such cases.
As a mandatory response to the raging pandemic, the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 was recently revised to add sanctions for any abuse directed towards healthcare personnel. Unfortunately, this is a temporary amendment to be in force until the end of the pandemic. As a result, the IMA has intensified its demand for national laws to resolve this issue and wants a law to be enacted as legislation through the sections of the IPC. Aggression towards public officials is specifically referenced under the Code that may provide security to workers of the public hospitals, however, the same effect on private healthcare workers is a matter of contention. Only the rules against simple assault and bodily harm apply to them, and these carry relatively less severe retributions than those imposed by a national statute particularly addressing this subject.
A specific law, as per the IMA, would deter aggression against healthcare workers while also safeguarding their right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The deterrence hypothesis in criminal justice is premised on the idea that the guilty make rational decisions and would not engage in immoral behavior out of the threat of consequences. But still, the perpetrators most likely result out to be from the patients’ close-knit circle who, as a result of trauma and agony, revert to violent means. Inadequate infrastructural development, loop-sided patient-doctor ratios and communication gaps are probable causes for such despicable actions. On a factual ground, policies that focus on stronger implementation and swifter repercussions are more likely to dissuade criminal conduct.
The best long-term solution for relieving the load on both doctors and patients is to substantially restructure and strengthen the public health system by raising the country’s healthcare budget and by sensitizing the patient and their family members. Increased spending and sensitization would result in a higher doctor-to-patient ratio, improved facilities and lower violence against the doctors.
However, currently in the absence of a definitive legislation, a few measures can be taken by medical workers and hospitals themselves to reduce the attacks on them. For starters, all health professionals should be acquainted with the STAMP abbreviation, which can be used to identify early signs of a possible assault. STAMP—which stands for Staring and eye contact, Tone and volume of voice, Anxiety, Mumbling and Pacing—can allow them to diffuse the issue before it becomes too serious or violent.
The majority of public and private hospitals in India lack a consistent procedure for dealing with aggression. Code Purple is a possible procedure that can be implemented which basically alerts healthcare workers when there is a risk of violence. This could include things like broadcasting the precise location of the assault over the hospital’s address system so that the security agents can arrive and help the victim right away. The WHO Regulations, which require hospitals to maintain appropriate systems for reporting incidences of violence involving medical professionals, should also be implemented in India.
Fundamental improvements at the core, and not just mere enactment of laws to ensure protection, are required to protect the doctors. Recently the Chief Justice of India praised the doctors for their services, calling them “living gods and goddesses” and “heroes without capes.” In the background of a crippling healthcare infrastructure, the doctors relentlessly and selflessly tried to protect each and every individual’s life, and now it’s our chance to safeguard theirs.
Astha Bhattacharya is a B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at National Law University, Odisha, India.
Suggested citation: Astha Bhattacharya, The Alarming Rise in Violence Against Doctors in India and Its Immediate Solution, JURIST – Student Commentary, July 26, 2021, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2021/07/bhattacharya-astha-pandemic-violence-doctors-india/.
This article was prepared for publication by Viraj Aditya, a JURIST staff editor. Please direct any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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