Medical Profession at Risk? Doctors Saving Citizens Lives, Now Fear for their Lives!

Medical Profession at Risk? Doctors Saving Citizens Lives, Now Fear for their Lives!

Mangaluru : How Safe are the Doctors and Hospitals in the Hands of Patients’ Kith and Kin ?-is the question many ask after a few attacks that have been taken place in our Nation. Even though we have seen or heard about a couple of incidents of assault on doctors and damage to hospital property that had taken place in Mangaluru/DK, the one being at Yenepoya Dental Hospital- Derlakatte in 2017, where a doctor was attacked by a patients family members- senior surgeon/Assistant Professor Dr Abhijith Shetty and a senior lady nursing staff Ms Florence were attacked by a mob, and the surgeon was allegedly dragged by a mob of nearly 40 people, assaulted and kidnapped in the early hours of 16 May 2017, following the death of a 65-year-old patient from Kinya who had been admitted to the hospital for cellulitis and other health complications. The doctor was rescued by his colleagues with the help of the police near the Ullal bridge, and three persons were arrested.

Dr. Paribaha Mukherjee – an intern at NRS Medical College Hospital-Kolkata

But the terrible incident that has shook the health care fraternity and industry is the incident which took place at the NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata, West Bengal just recently, where a young doctor was attacked brutally by the kith and kin of a patient, who the family members blame on the doctor for his negligence. This attack on this intern has triggered widespread resentment among the community of the health care professionals. Yesterday, the members of Indian Medical Association (IMA)-Mangaluru Chapter staged a dharna in front of the IMA building in Hampankatta, Mangaluru, demanding justice. Meanwhile there had been protest all over India on Friday condemning the brutal attack on this young doctor, and protesters urging the central government to pass a law in punishing those who assault health care professionals.

Recalling the incident that took place at the Kolkota Hospital, it is learnt that a 85 year old man was admitted in emergency ward at around 7 p.m on 10th June in very serious state . In spite of best possible treatment patient passed away after some time of admission . After that relatives of patient came with a truck full of goons and started pelting stones and bricks towards the doctors. Dr. Paribaha Mukherjee Intern on duty was hit by a brick and got seriously injured with an skull fracture. Another intern was also beaten mercilessly by the attacking goons. Some other students including one from 2nd year also got seriously injured.

Members of IMA-Mangaluru during a Candle Light Vigil condemning the attack on doctors

“If this kind of attacks continues and immediate steps are not taken by Government to save Doctors from unruly relatives it will be difficult for Doctors and Hospitals to treat patients with serious illness. While assaults on doctors have happened in the past, the problem has only increased in gravity, despite assurance by the authorities and higher-ups. ” say doctors here in Mangaluru, who interacted with Team Mangalorean during the protest during afternoon time, and candle light vigil in the evening on Friday, 14 June near IMA building.

Speaking to Team Mangalorean Dr Sachindanand Rai- the President of Mangaluru IMA said, “Patients and their families should think that we are no Gods to save every ones in their diseases-we always try our best to save a person’s life, but all diseases can’t be cured. These incidents has demoralized the medical fraternity which thus has become a soft target for hooligans. We hope people who are trusted by the public to represent them introspect deeply and show remorse. These incidents if allowed to continue unchecked, can have serious repercussions on patient care in future and are sure to remove that much needed compassion and care from medical profession reducing it to just another service. It is hoped that governments take cognizance of these unpleasant developments and take remedial measures to create a better society where people/patients kith and kin are looked up to with faith and respect for solutions and not feared like criminals. We request the general public to convey our anguish and strong protest to all the authorities, and the higher ups in the Government, to ensure Harmony is maintained “.

I am propelled to write this piece here not just because it spells a harsh future for the medical profession in India, and for that matter here in Mangaluru, but also because its saddens me that many of my friends who are in the medical profession feel that their job is kind of risky these days, because of some of the issues over which the incidents took place were either systemic or inevitable — and not remotely the fault of the hapless doctors. Many of my relatives are doctors, even my niece, Dr Viola D’souza, who worked as HOD of Radiology Dept at Fr Muller Hospital, presently joined her husband in Las Vegas-USA., and also my cousin Dr Melwyn Fernandes, a orthopedic surgeon in Mumbai. All these doctors should be respected as “Saviours” and not as “Martyrs/Tormentors”, which has been happening recently.

Speaking about a doctor, whom I have known for many years and have seen his dedication and commitment towards his job and his patients, I can tell that he has always been a proponent of hope and beacon of inspiration. His tenacity has made him endure the rigorous academic cycle, competition as well as the deplorable conditions of sleeping in wards, skipping meals and several hours of being on call — all this he has done with unparalleled zeal. I have sensed his trauma as he saw his patients die every odd day, when they were brought in serious conditions due to accidents etc – he tries his best to save them, but not all the time. Citizens should realize that doctors are not God and they cannot ensure success in their treatment each and every time.

Over the years, I have noticed that this doctor has compromised on many things — festivals, marriages, anniversaries, what have you. I distinctly remember him joking that he should have opted for an Lawyer or Engineer’s profession for better financial prospects, to which he had a dignified reply: “I work for I care.” Today, for the first time, I see him question his decision to opt for medicine — not because he’s vulnerable or weak, but because he isn’t allowed to demand his right to safety. Remember when the doctors in Maharashtra held a protest against the assault on their colleagues, the division bench of the Bombay High Court had made a senseless statement, slamming the “no-show agitation” launched by resident doctors across Maharashtra, saying “If you (doctors) do not want to work, then resign. You are not factory workers who resort to such protests. Shame on you. How can doctors behave in such a manner?” With due respect, the verdict and comparison are imperious and leave any doctor desolate
Yes, Violence against medical personnel has increased over the past few years, despite a wave of state laws passed in 2008/2009 that explicitly prohibit such attacks on doctors, nurses, paramedics and hospital property- categorizing such attacks as non-bailable offenses and mandating prison terms of one to 10 years, depending on the state. As a deterrent, such laws have clearly failed. The consequences appear grave. Doctors are now less likely to take risks, since the death of a patient might provoke mayhem. If a patient comes in a serious condition and a doctor spends all night in the ICU with the patient, if he dies, the patients kith and kin will be after doctor’s blood. The violence has also led to growing fissures within health systems, with younger doctors resentful of becoming punching bags without adequate protection from their supervisors and institutions. Strikes may provide an outlet for outrage, but they also lead to neglect of countless other patients.

Meanwhile, boundaries are blurring between India’s violent political culture and the blue-curtained hospital space. According to medical superintendents and social workers, numerous politicians like to throw their weight around crowded emergency rooms in a bid to pump up the vote bank in their constituencies. Their designated patient must get immediate attention, or else. “Don’t you know who I AM?” seems a common prelude to bullying and shattered windows, courtesy of his or her entourage. Then there are some hardcore activists groups that always want to create trouble.

On the other hand, the ignorance of police personnel should be penalized. Even if they do know the law, they give importance and sympathy to the patients’ relatives, which in my opinion, should be curbed. If you look at district or some of the other hospitals, a resident doctor is not only the first point of contact with patients, but also the one handling the maximum workload. It’s a complete failure of the judicial machinery as it chose to indict a profession on the whole, when it is incumbent upon it to offer real-time measures for the crisis. Rebuke doctors for the “mass leave” if you must, but ensure the grievances are heard, that security is provided and that residents are not overworked and underpaid. Doctors need this confidence and compassion if they are to deal with grave cases, not live in the constant fear of being lynched by a mob.

On the other hand there are certain media which has played a major role in demonizing doctors with the purpose of peddling news. Journalism has become increasingly combative and, as a result, indicting doctors sans proof has been normalized. This brand of journalism sells a negative image of the medical community. Since it might be callous to pin the blame on the patient or the attendants, some media outlets find it convenient to scapegoat the physician, causing the public to start a witch hunt, no less. Such fear mongering has sown seeds of deep suspicion in the minds of the people. For instance, among few media outlets, there has been a predilection to suggest that due to the striking resident doctors, emergency cases are being compromised, which is factually wrong as the only reason senior doctors have not joined the protests is to ensure emergencies are covered.

According to the Act, violence against doctors, medical staff and medical establishments is a non-bailable offence, attracting imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 50,000. Also, the offender would have to pay twice the amount of damage or loss caused to property as compensation. Unfortunately, with no awareness created about around it, the Act seems to be followed only on paper. In the meantime, our lovely police is largely unaware of its existence. The handling of such assault is so depraved that despite several doctors suffering attacks in recently, not a single conviction was made- and one such example is the one we are seeing in Kolkata Hospital attack case, where even the CM Mamata Banerjee is remaining dumb?

In addition to jeopardizing the safety of medical personnel, violence threatens patient safety and hampers their recovery to health. Ineffective communication or delay in attending to a patient can easily drive them over the edge. Since most patients lack health insurance, at times, the diagnosis comes as a financial disaster and shocks them into emotional turmoil. This results in the displacement of anger toward the physician. Most government hospitals lack adequate security personnel. During the late hours, it is often the medical officer who plays the role of the doctor, as well as that of the security guard. There is no established protocol for tackling violence or assault incidents. Laws against doctor assault should be prominently displayed on the walls of the hospital.

Doctors of AIIMS Hospital-Kolkata in protest against the attack on doctor

Thus, in instances of patient deaths, people believe in exacting immediate revenge, seeking their “pound of flesh” using physical means rather than filing a case in courts. So what’s the cure? What can be done? Though the scenario seems gloomy, tackling the problem requires residents’ participation. Violence in any form and, in any setting, is despicable. However, acts of violence in a hospital are the most extreme and should be dealt with an iron hand. Hospitals are sanctums of healing and recuperation. In addition to jeopardizing the safety of medical personnel, violence threatens patient safety and hampers their recovery to health. For the better of the society, doctors too — rather than giving the cold shoulder to the other aggrieved parties — should work in tandem with the government as well as the public, to tide over this crisis.

On a final note, I am sorry if I’ve hurt individual sentiments, I only want the issue to be resolved as soon as possible and for the likes of my doctor friends about their work that drives their passion. Long live the Doctors- the Life Saviors!

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