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Doctors’ Pain

Aarti Aarti
27 Mar 2023
During the first and second waves of COVID, instance of many doctors being attacked by relatives of family members of patients have been reported.

The manner in which a 59-year-old senior cardiologist was assaulted by a patient’s family members in a Kozhikode hospital this March 5, following the unfortunate death of a baby, is rather disturbing. A patient who was under the treatment of the cardiologist’s wife, a gynaecologist working in the same hospital, is said to have developed some complication and lost her child during labour. 

Accusing the hospital staff of delaying treatment and medical negligence, several relatives of the patient vandalised the hospital and brutally punched the cardiologist who was present there. He was immediately taken to the ICU after he fell unconscious. Following the attack, doctors in Kozhikode went on a day’s strike. Six persons who were subsequently arrested have since been granted bail by a local court.

The Kerala High Court which is seized with the issue of attacks on healthcare personnel (138 cases between June 2021 and May 2022) has already issued several interim orders to enable Doctors/nurses to function in the most efficient manner, without any extraneous pressure being brought upon them. On 1 December 2022, a Division Bench of the Court directed that every Station House Officer shall register complaints (FIR) of atrocity or attack or harm on any Healthcare Professional – be that Doctors, Nurses, staffs, security or such other, or against the property of a Hospital -- within an hour from the time on which such information is obtained or gathered. 

The court further observed that swift action thereafter needs to be initiated to apprehend the offenders, as and when it requires so, leading to prosecution and such other, as the law warrants. Seeking an action taken report over the recent attack on the Kozhikode cardiologist, the High Court has observed that the accused were not arrested, but they surrendered much later and the FIR was registered nearly 24 hours after the incident.

The following are some of the news items recurring in the media: ‘Orthopaedic doctor thrashed by patient's kin’; ‘Relatives of an alcoholic deceased patient brutally thrash two medical residents’; ‘Brick hurled at a junior resident doctor by the relatives of a 75-year-old patient results in skull fracture’; ‘Grandmother of a 2-month-old baby (who succumbed during treatment) assaults a junior doctor in the paediatric department’. 

More recently a junior doctor at a Raipur Government hospital who asked a patient in the ICU to stop smoking was attacked by his relatives. Not long ago, two doctors at a Government Medical College in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district were assaulted with a fruit cutter knife by a patient. In Shimla, a patient asked the lady doctor to bandage an incision and when she entered the next room to get the bandage, the accused followed her, finding her alone, he assaulted her. In Faridabad, a 40-year-old doctor on duty in the Emergency Ward of the Civil Hospital was assaulted by attendants of a patient. The incident happened because the doctor who was already attending to another patient could not immediately attend the said patient, which infuriated the relatives who started beating him.

Although several states have passed the Protection of Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, which prohibits violence against doctors and other healthcare workers, that many hospitals have deployed security guards and bouncers to protect doctors on duty shows that attacks on doctors is happening across the country. For instance, between 2016 and 2019, there were 58 incidents of doctors, especially residents, being assaulted by patients’ kin in Maharashtra. Similar incidents have been reported from several states.

During the first and second waves of COVID, instance of many doctors being attacked by relatives of family members of patients have been reported. 

In case of doctors managing casualty wards, handling road traffic accident patients is at times difficult and reports indicate that with both the patients as well as their relatives drunk, arguments seem to be never ending. 

According to a 2018 Lancet report, quoting the Indian Medical Association (IMA), nearly 75 percent doctors in India have faced either verbal or physical violence during their lifetime. Most of the cases of violence are due to patients’ death, inflated bills and sometimes behaviour of the doctors. Junior doctors are more exposed to violence for they are the first responders. Notably over 40 percent of resident doctors in tertiary care hospitals in New Delhi faced violence at work. Over 80 percent of doctors are stressed out in their profession and nearly 56 percent don't sleep comfortably for 7 hours a day.

Violence against doctors and hospitals is a major worldwide issue transcending regions and religions. If reports are to be believed, one-third of healthcare workers in the United Kingdom had faced violence at the workplace. In the US, between 1980 and 1990, more 100 healthcare workers died due to violence. According to the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, more than 105 violent incidents occurred between 2009 and 2015, leaving doctors with serious injuries. Notably a patient who was treated by a Dentist in China 25 years ago stabbed the 60-year-old doctor to death as he was left with yellow teeth after the surgery.

The general public needs to appreciate that many doctors and medical support staff work under challenging circumstances. Last year a 44-year-old surgeon who was stuck in Bengaluru traffic literally ran 3 km in 17 minutes to reach the hospital where his patient was scheduled for a surgery. He later observed that had he not reached on time, the patient would have felt uncomfortable as she had not consumed food before surgery. Moreover, his team was waiting for him and it would have resulted in a chain reaction affecting other patients scheduled to meet him and other doctors as well.

Breaking the bad news to a patient’s family is delicate issue. There is an imperative need to prevent attacks on medical professionals. The society at large in the right earnest can help in nipping them in the budding stages itself.

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