Attacks on doctors must stop

Doctor holding a woman's hand

Attacks by disgruntled relatives of patients who accuse doctors of negligence is fast emerging as the biggest occupational hazard of the medical profession. The attitude of a patient today is, “Thank god for recovery, blame doctors for death.” This has adversely impacted the patients themselves with doctors now being increasingly vary of treating emergency cases even when there is a chance of survival, for fear of vindictive action by relatives in case of an eventuality. Besides, such attacks often result in strikes and disruption of medical services, inconveniencing the common man. The latest instance is the protest by junior doctors of Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute after one of their female colleagues at Minto Eye Hospital was attacked, allegedly by members of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike. Recently, 24 patients who underwent cataract surgery at the hospital developed serious complications, while four of them went blind completely, due to the use of a contaminated drug. This is undoubtedly a serious issue that not only calls for adequate compensation for the victims but also merits stringent action against all the guilty, including the drug manufacturer. While the Vedike has every right to agitate, assaulting a doctor on duty is a crime that deserves to be viewed seriously.

With such attacks on doctors being reported from across the country, the Centre has proposed the Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of violence and damage to property) Bill, which will hopefully offer some protection to medical practitioners. If it becomes law, any act of violence against healthcare professionals will be a non-bailable offence attracting imprisonment of up to three years and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh. In case of grievous injury to the medical professional, the Bill proposes imprisonment of 3-10 years and a fine of Rs 2-10 lakh. In addition, the convicted person shall pay an amount twice the fair market value of any damaged property.

While laws may or may not serve as deterrents, a lasting solution can be found only if the widening trust deficit between doctors and patients is bridged. It is no secret that while many government doctors have a behavioural problem, patients often see private practitioners as mercenaries out to fleece them, especially with the advent of corporate hospitals. While attacks on doctors is condemnable, medical practitioners too should do some soul-searching and identify the fault lines. The government should not only ensure that affordable healthcare is available to every citizen but also focus on factors like pre- and post-hospitalisation care, nutrition, personal hygiene, potable water and unadulterated food, which would all go a long way in creating a healthy society and reducing the burden on the healthcare system.

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