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Attacks on Angels

Measures governments need to take to prevent assaults on doctors
The doctors serving in government hospitals across the country who recently went on strike had a justifiable cause for their concern: they wanted permanent protection from assaults by relatives of patients who die, as it had happened at a government hospital in West Bengal. The doctors of the NRS College and Hospital in West Bengal went on strike for a week demanding protection from irate relatives of patients and legal action against the persons who had attacked some of the doctors. The doctors’ strike in West Bengal got highly politicised, which was clear from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s approach to the strike and the doctors’ approach to Mamata Banerjee. When the Chief Minister finally agreed to have a dialogue with the doctors, they insisted that she come to the NRS College and Hospital to talk to them; they would not go to her office to talk to her. Such a demand could not be seen but as political. After they agreed to go to meet her, the doctors said the media should be present during their talks. Never before had a striking organisation sought live telecast of talks with government!
The attack on NRS College and Hospital doctors was not the first of its kind; nor would it be the last, until both the government and doctors take steps to prevent such incidents. It is only when such attacks take place that the government promises to set up a mechanism, a promise which is soon forgotten and remembered only when another attack takes place. Now that the issue has been revived following assault on doctors in West Bengal, the governments must provide doctors with security to prevent attacks on them. Goa is not insulated from such attacks as doctors at the Goa Medical College and Hospital have suffered from the anger of relatives of patients in the past. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has promised posting of two constables 24×7 at GMC to prevent attacks on doctors. Similar steps need to be taken in other states.
While the government makes sure no harm is done to doctors in the discharge of their duties they also have to make sure the doctors observed the right protocol to keep the relations of the patients informed about their condition and the intricacies involved in treatment. Doctors should be prompt in attending patients and not be indifferent to their relations. They need to tell them everything about the line of treatment in dealing with emergencies; they need to comfort anxious relatives and seek their cooperation. This will help prevent violent reactions from relations in the eventuality of a patient’s condition deteriorating or passing away during treatment. The casualty department attracts a number of patients who simultaneously need urgent attention. Usually doctors prefer to treat critically ill patients on priority, which makes relations of other patients feel that their dear ones are being neglected. This gives room for resentment. Security is not enough. The governments must also provide enough doctors and paramedical staff in the casualty department in particular and the hospital in general to guarantee full and urgent attention to all patients.
It is not just government hospitals which have witnessed incidents owing to an outburst of relations of patients. There have been cases of private hospitals being attacked for not treating an emergency patient because his relations had no money to pay for the expenses of treatment. The issue has to be seen in a dispassionate and objective manner. Doctors are seen as angels because they save lives. It is beyond the imagination of an average citizen to go out and hit a doctor. We have to be as much understanding of the emotions of the relations of critical patients as of doctors. A law providing for stringent punishment for attack on doctors might not serve the purpose. There are various sections in the Indian Penal Code which can be applied to prosecute such assailants. But even these sections may not be needed if the governments provide adequate number of doctors to hospitals and doctors follow a work ethic and deal with the patients and their relatives with promptness, understanding and care.

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