Analyzing the Safety of Health Workers

This blog is inscribed by Vidushi Singh.

Introduction

The Medical Profession is one of the pre-eminent professions all over the world. However, when the human race is facing a disastrous situation due to the pandemic, in India the saviour’s lives are at risk. The doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners who are risking their lives to treat the masses are attacked by the people. When these warriors need the utmost support of the nation, some are raising the voice against humanity. Not only during the pandemic are the health workers fighting this battle for a long time. A study was conducted by the Indian Medical Association, whereby it was found that 75% of the doctors across the country have faced some sort of physical violence in connection with the discharge of their duties. A survey was conducted by the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the USA which shows that 21 percent of registered nurses and nursing students were reported to be physically assaulted and over 50 per cent were reported to be verbally abused. 12 per cent of Emergency Department Nurses experienced physical violence and 59 per cent experienced verbal abuse.[1] Therefore, here is a critical analysis of the conditions and safety of healthcare workers in our country through a legal perspective.

Protection of Healthcare workers in India

There is no separate law governed by the centre for the protection of the medical practitioners in the nation. However, some states have passed The Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act. According to the Act, the term Medicare Service Persons includes:

(i) Registered Medical Practitioners, working in Medicare Institutions (including those having provisional registration);

(ii)  Registered Nurses;

 (iii) Medical Students;

(iv) Nursing Students;

(v) Para Medical Workers employed and working in medicare service institution.[2]

To maintain public order, the states made their separate acts for the protection of the medical practitioners and medical institutions. The offenders can get a jail term of up to three years and a fine of Rs.50000 is imposed. However, this Act is a failure because it is neither featured in Indian Penal Code nor in the Code of Criminal Procedure. This has made difficult for victims to approach the police for help or to file a complaint against suspects.[3]

Need of a Legislation for the Protection of Health workers

Now the question is whether the country needs a central law for the protection of health workers? The answer can be deduced after analysing the legal aspect of it. The Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Bill 2008 was proposed in Rajya Sabha, The Statement of Object and Reasons stated in the bill was:

 “Acts of violence causing injury or danger to the life of persons engaged in medicare services as also damage to property belonging to medicare institutions are on the increase in the century. As a result of such incidents against medicare persons, patients visiting hospitals have to suffer tremendously. These acts are resorted to by the Relatives and alive acquaintances of patients who are not satisfied with the treatment given to the patients and at the same time also by unruly elements of society. As of now, there is no law in the country to safeguard the life of the doctors, paramedical staff and others who as associated with medicare as also damage to property of medicare service institutions. It is, therefore, necessary that a suitable law is passed to prohibit violence against medicare service persons and damage to property in medicare service institutions in the country before the situation becomes alarming. Hence this Bill.”[4]

There were various views of people for the passing of this bill, like if this bill became an Act, then similar bills must be passed for other professions like lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers etc., they must also be protected because they are also not shielded from threats and violence. Several cases of attacks on people of other professions exist, some are even unknown. Therefore, if the legislature starts framing separate acts for the protection of them, there would congestion of acts, leading to confusion and complexity in the judicial system.

However, on the other hand, some people supported this bill on the simple reason that the health workers are considered next to God, they are lifesavers. If their lives would be at stake then who is going to protect us? Hence, the country must protect them and draft a central law. These were the kind of opinions in favour and against the bill.

In the year 2019 The Ministry of Health, Government of India proposed the passing of ‘The Health Services Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of Violence and Damage of Property) Bill’. The offender would be imprisoned for ten years and a fine shall be imposed on ten lakh rupees. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Health Affairs rejected the proposal on the reason that there must be no separate law for doctors.[5]

Framing of the Act by the State Governments

The Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Bill has been made passed in certain states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Telangana and 15 other states. Some states enacted this law after happening of certain serious incidences. In the year 2008, a doctor was dragged in the streets by a mob and later his face was blackened by them. A protest march was led by 4000 doctors after the incident. President of the Association of Medical Consultant, Dr Naik said:

“We met the then Home Minister R.R Patil who agreed to come up with an ordinance and the Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institution (Prevention of Violence and Damage of Property) Act, came in 2010”[6]

The Act in Telangana was first implemented in the form of Andhra Pradesh Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institution (Prevention of Violence and Damage of Property) Act, 2008 in Andhra Pradesh after a series of attack on medicos at government-run maternity hospitals in Hyderabad. After the formation of Telangana, the Act was renamed and was first invoked in 2018 against four persons involved in an attack on a private hospital in Hyderabad following the death of their relative. The punishment stated in the Act is almost the same in all the states implementing this act that is three years imprisonment and fine up to fifty thousand rupees.[7]

However, this act has failed in providing relief to health workers. There are no figures available on how many times the medical service person protection law has been invoked[8]. In the Maharashtra case, the offenders who have assaulted doctors are still unconvicted. In West Bengal, an attack on a junior doctor took place on June 10, 2019, by the dead patient’s relative, despite having the act no action was taken against the mob.[9]

Legal Provisions dealing with the violence against health workers

 In criminal law, an offence against doctors and other medical staff is punishable. Offences disturbing public tranquillity[10]– Unlawful assembly, rioting, affray.

Offences affecting public health, safety, convenience, decency and morals[11] – Public nuisance, Hurt, Grievous hurt.

Offences against property[12] – Theft, Mischief, Criminal Trespass.

Obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions[13] – This section is for the public servants and thus will include government doctors.

These are certain provisions which help in curbing the atrocities, but despite having this comprehensive code, the judiciary fails in providing efficacious legal assistance. There is a lack of stringent punishments and innumerable cases are pending in the courts.

Safety of health workers during the pandemic

Amidst the pandemic, there is an increase in the attack on doctors. The attacks on the health workers are mostly done while they went to collect samples of those who are suspected to have been infected. In Indore, four persons who were part of the mob pelted stones and chased health officials when they went to screen the relatives of a man who died of the coronavirus. Bhopal, Hyderabad, Karnataka, New Delhi are some of the places where doctors were attacked. The most significant reason for the attack is the rumours that getting infected by the virus results to certain death. Fear is also there that if they come in contact with the healthcare workers, they would get infected as the healthcare personnel are highly prone to the virus.[14] The inhumanity done to the health workers was highly condemned worldwide.

The ordinance signed to curb the violence

Keeping in mind the barbaric situation, the Government of India approved the promulgation of an ordinance amending The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. Prohibition of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property is inserted. If anyone violates the law will be imprisoned for three months which may extend to five years with a fine of fifty thousand rupees extending to two lakh rupees.[15]The act of violence causing grievous hurt to healthcare workers shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than six months, which may extend to seven years with fine of one lakh rupees which may extend to five lakh rupees. The offence is non-bailable and cognizable.[16]

The important decision taken by the government may help in curbing many cases of violence during the pandemic. But two essential question arises that, Whether the ordinance must become a permanent law?

Should the Governmentpass The Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Bill, when the pandemic is controlled?

The answer to the first question might get a positive response of having a permanent law for such grave situations however the second question is a debatable one. There will be a plethora of opinions, as some might say it is important to have such a law and the protection of medicare service persons must be highly prioritised, however, on the other hand, it can be said that passing a special law for the protection of them will lead to complexity and vagueness of the legislative system. Hence, it is on the Government’s discretion after analysing all the aspects of law and according to the ongoing situations the need to pass such an act.

Conclusion

Whatever might be the ultimate decision of the Government in future, the bitter truth is that where have we lost the spirit of humanity in ourselves? The irony lies here that the person who saves our lives from danger and sometimes risks his own life for us has an unsafe life. The medicare service persons need proper security not only from attacks but also from threats, abuse, intimidation etc. because the condition of their mental health directly affects the patients they are treating. The judicial system must work proactively in providing remedies to them in several cases. The need for speedy trial and effective judgement is actually what is needed whether the government frames a central law or not.


[1] Sarita Singh v. State & others AIR (2018),Utt HC,066

[2] The Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act 2008, §2

[3]SimrinSirur, There is a law to protect doctors from the assault but this is why it does work, The Print, June14,2019 

[4]The Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Bill, 2008

[5] Rushabh Aggarwal, India needs an urgent law to protect all health workers from violence, The Wire, April 7, 2020 

[6]Sonam Seigal, A legal remedy enforced, The Hindu, March 27,2017

[7] Telangana to invoke tough laws to curb attack on doctors, IANS, April 16, 2020 

[8]Preventing violence: on protection to doctors, The Hindu, June 19, 2019

[9] Seigal, Supranote 6

[10] The Indian Penal Code 1860, § §141,142,143,146,147,148,159,160,

[11] The Indian Penal Code 1860, § § 268,269,294,319,323,324,320,325,326,326A

[12] The Indian Penal Code 1860, § § 378,379,441,447,499,500

[13] The Indian Penal Code1860, § 186

[14] Protection for protectors on the safety of healthcare workers, The Hindu, April 24,2020

[15]  The Epidemic Disease (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, § 2(B)

[16]ibid

2 Replies to “Analyzing the Safety of Health Workers”

  1. Very Nice Article…
    Since ‘Law and Order’ and ‘Health’ both fall under State List. It will be hard for the centre to transgress federal dictates. In these cases basically it has provided a Model Law to be adopted by states. This happens in many other subjects as well like APMC.
    Federal Legislatures play a crucial role in such areas and they can even go ahead to dilute a central law within their constitutional domain. Nonetheless, in certain areas the centre has stepped ahead for preserving larger public interest. Few miscreants cannot be allowed to jeopardize such interest.
    In my opinion its not about bringing more laws in the system. Many subjects where new laws were enforced even fail to curb the malice at grassroots. Justice delivery and the police function needs a big overhaul in order to address a multiple issues including this one.

    1. Thankyou sir for reading this article and giving your views on it. And I agree to your opinion that there is need of efficient functioning of law rather than crowding our legal system and thereby increasing complexity.

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