Ensuring the safety of healthcare professional

The brutal assault on a doctor by a group of people following the death of a COVID-19 patient in a hospital in central Assam’s Hojai district is a heinous crime that needs to be condemned by all.
Ensuring the safety of healthcare professional

The brutal assault on a doctor by a group of people following the death of a COVID-19 patient in a hospital in central Assam's Hojai district is a heinous crime that needs to be condemned by all. The mere arrest of 24 attackers allegedly involved in the crime is not going to prevent the recurrence of such a barbaric incident. Strong punishment must be meted out by existing laws to deter others from indulging in such criminal act. Doctors, other healthcare workers as well as all frontline workers are staking their lives to save millions of COVID-19 infected people across the globe. More than one lakh healthcare workers have died in the world on their line of duties while saving lives during the two devastating waves of a pandemic. Ensuring their protection is a bounden duty of not just the government but also every section of society. It is unfortunate that even after eight years of enactment of The Assam Medicare Service Persons, Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Properties) Act, 2011 in 2013 such incidents of assault on doctors and healthcare workers and damaging healthcare properties are recurring in the state. The act passed by the Assam Assembly was notified on February 4, 2013, after it had received the assent of the President on January 22, 2013. The Act provides that anyone who indulges in violence against any healthcare service persons shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with a fine which may extend up to fifty thousand rupees. In addition to punishment, the court shall, when passing the judgment order the accused person to pay by way of compensation, such amount as may be specified in the order for the damage or loss of the property of the medicare service institution and the quantum of compensation shall not be less than the purchase price of such property. In 2019, the Ministry of Health proposed harsher legislation - The Health Services Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of Violence and Damage of Property) Billany person who commits violence or abets such violence may be punished with imprisonment between six months to five years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees. Further, if any person causes grievous hurt to a healthcare service professional, he will be imprisoned for a period between three years to ten years, along with a fine between two lakh rupees and Rs 10 lakh, the draft bill proposed which aimed to cover healthcare professionals including doctors, nurse, paramedical staff, diagnostic service providers and ambulance drivers. However, during inter-ministerial consultation, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) objected to having separate law to check violence against members of a specific profession. The MHA insisted that the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure have enough provisions to deal with cases of attacks on healthcare professionals. Following several incident attacks on healthcare professionals during the first wave of the pandemic, Rajya Sabha passed the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill 2020 in September last year to amend the 1897 epidemic act and replaced an ordinance issued by the Central government earlier in April 2020. The amended law states that no one shall indulge in any act of violence against a healthcare service professional or cause any damage or loss to any property during an epidemic. It provides for punishing the perpetrators with imprisonment for a minimum period of six months and a maximum of seven years, with a penalty ranging from one lakh rupees to five lakhs rupees and such offences shall be cognizable and non-bailable. The wordings of the legislation leave room for apprehension that such a safety shield for healthcare professional will be temporary till the occurrence of an epidemic. A key lesson from the recurrence of incidents of attacks on doctors in the state and other parts of the country is that such legislation will fail to act as a deterrent, however stringent legal provisions may be if implementation and awareness on them remain poor. Political parties, civil society groups standing in solidarity with the medical fraternity will mount pressure on the government for implementing the laws aimed at protecting healthcare professionals at their workplaces all the time and not just during an epidemic. Doctors in Assam staging protest attack on their colleague is a spontaneous expression of their anger over the lack of protection at the workplace leading to the recurrence of such incidents. Deployment of security staff inadequate strength, more particularly in remote and isolated healthcare centres, educating resident about the importance of the safety of healthcare professionals and widespread publicity on various laws to deal with cases of attacks on them, will help create a safe environment. A uniform central act is needed to end ambiguities over legal provisions to deal with all such cases to prevent a recurrence.

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