Violence Against Healthcare Professionals: An Emerging Epidemic in India

The episodes of violence that have occurred must move every citizen—as a result, demonstrating solidarity with those who are on the front lines.

Introduction

The World Medical Association recently declared violence against healthcare professionals an “international emergency” that “undermines the basic foundation of health systems and has a major impact on patient health.” The dilemma is made worse by the fact that a doctor’s death has a direct influence on the healthcare system.

According to the Indian Medical Association, 75% of doctors encounter verbal or physical harassment on the job, with fear of violence being the most common source of stress for 43% of doctors. The most violent incidents get reported at the moment of emergency care, where the patient’s relatives are responsible for 70% of the incidents.

The recent significant increase in such events is concerning. Given the unstable situation of our healthcare system, violence at this rate will only hasten its demise. And we aren’t prepared for it! Moreover, even on humanitarian grounds, such incidents desecrate the lives and professions of doctors who bravely strove to combat the pandemic.

Although violence against healthcare professionals is not a unique phenomenon and is somewhat not new, the absence of specific legal measures dealing specifically with the commission of such crimes made the situation severe.

Legislation to Deal with Violence against Doctors-

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act 2020 is an amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897. The 2020 Amended Act defines an act of violence as the practice that causes harassment, harm, injury, a hindrance to services, property damage, or destruction of documents in custody, committed by any person against a healthcare service professional serving during an epidemic.

The law further specifies “health care professional” and “property,” giving it a wide ambit for better protection. According to Section 2B, during the epidemic, no one shall commit any act of violence against a healthcare professional or cause any harm or loss to any property.

The commission or abetment of the commission of a violent act is punishable under Section 3(2). Committing an act of violence against a healthcare service provider, causing serious harm as defined under section 320 IPC, is covered by Section 3(3).

The Court will presume that a person who causes grave harm to a healthcare service professional is guilty of the act unless proven otherwise.

In addition to the sentence specified for the offense, the person convicted would be responsible for paying the cash amount as assessed by the Court, compensation for injuring or grievously injuring any healthcare service professional.

Furthermore, in the event of property damage or loss, the compensation payable shall be twice the amount of the damaged property’s fair market value.

What do Judicial Pronouncements Say?

The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir stated in Azra Usmail and Others v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir that such violence has grave repercussions such as the transmission of infection, endangering the lives of healthcare staff, and causing damage to public property.

In Jerryl Banait v. Union of India, the Supreme Court considered a case in which doctors who went to test particular patients were attacked and stoned. The Supreme Court and observed and directed that:

“The pandemic that is sweeping the country is a national disaster. In the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude, all country inhabitants must act responsibly to provide a hand to the government and medical personnel in carrying out their obligations to control and combat COVID-19. The occurrences mentioned above are bound to generate a sense of unease in doctors and medical staff, who are required by society to safeguard citizens from COVID-19 sickness by following the call of their duty. It is the responsibility of the state and the police administration to provide adequate security at all locations where patients who have been diagnosed as coronavirus positive or infected with the virus are present. Doctors and medical personnel are also provided with police security when they visit locations to evaluate people for disease symptoms.”

Sanpreet Singh v. Union of India was another case in which the High Court of Karnataka ordered the Karnataka Government to provide sufficient nutrition and care to healthcare practitioners. The Supreme Court also ordered District Magistrates to investigate these workers’ complaints.

The Kerala High Court held in Abdul Naser v. the State of Kerala that, in addition to causing pain and misery to doctors, attacks and violence against them harm the treatment of all patients. It effectively brings all functions to a standstill, putting many people’s health in jeopardy, which is a grave problem.

What Must be Done?

While a balanced approach is necessary, we must also focus on unfairness and harsh treatment of healthcare personnel. What we must do to protect our doctors and other healthcare professionals is the more pressing matter.

The topic has to be addressed from a legal, sociological, and academic standpoint. Healthcare organizations can take several initiatives to rectify the situation.

The primary step they can take is to establish an internal protocol for dealing with violence. Unfortunately, most hospitals lack a procedure for reporting violence or policies to prevent and treat violence at the organizational level.

Secondly, productive skills, particularly empathetic abilities for effective communication, must be taught in medical education. It is often due to inadequate communication skills and variables such as insufficient time spent with patients that violence is on the rise.

Finally, the public must be informed; of the healthcare worker’s viewpoint. Patients and their families need to be educated- about the medical profession and the issues it faces.

The pandemic and present crisis have brought violence against healthcare professionals and destruction to healthcare facilities to the people’s eye.

Infrastructure, of course, is in short supply at all levels and must be protected. Beating up on doctors and other healthcare professionals may dampen young medical students’ enthusiasm.

The profession can be mentally and physically demanding, and such incidents may prevent young doctors from fulfilling their oath.

It is even more critical for the government to recognize the need for a substantial expansion of healthcare infrastructure. It must also ensure that the population-to-doctor ratio is improved, which can be accomplished by enacting regulations that promote egalitarian medical education.

The episodes of violence that have occurred must move every citizen—as a result, demonstrating solidarity with those who are on the front lines.

REFERENCES

Trends in Violence Against Healthcare Professionals, available at: https://vidhilegalpolicy.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/200131_Violence-against-Healthcare-Professionals-Recent-Legal-and-Policy-Issues.pdf

Violence Against Healthcare Professionals in India: We Need to Stop this Barbarism!, available at: https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/violence-on-healthcare-professionals/

Kashish Garg is a law student at the Aligarh Muslim University, India. She is a feminist and strongly believes in gender equality. She has a keen interest in Human Rights, Criminal Law and Constitutional Law. She wants to make a change in the minds of the society by writing on the issues which she feels strongly about.

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