Doctors at the Sion Hospital have boycotted work to signal their protest after Rohit Kumar, a junior resident doctor, was assaulted on Saturday by family members of a patient who succumbed to a kidney ailment at the hospital. The Sion case is the latest in a series of attacks on medical practitoners by upset relatives of patients.
In 2015, three doctors of the state-run KEM hospital were attacked after an infant died because of dengue. The child’ relatives allegedly beat up doctors using iron tables, wooden sticks and chairs.
Two years on, the case is pending in the sessions court. “The family filed a counter case against us, alleging we assaulted them,” says Dr. Suhas Chowdhary, one of the doctors who were attacked. Currently a lecturer at the Government Medical College in Aurangabad, Dr. Chowdhary continues to feel unsafe in the profession. “Obviously we feel unsafe, because the problems such as lack of security continue to persist,” he says. The doctor’s fears are validated by the latest incident in his own institute, where an intern was allegedly manhandled by the relatives of a patient on Monday night.
“As many as 45 cases have been registered in the last three years under the Doctors’ Protection Act. So far, not one case has reached the stage of conviction,” says Dr. Yash Kabra, President of Central Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD). The Doctor’s Protection Act, also known as the Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage of Property) Act, was passed in 2010 and entails imprisonment of three years on conviction. “Unless the prison term is increased to a period of 7 years and above, this law will remain weak,” Dr. Kabra says. According to him, security measures in hospitals are insufficient as the guards are hired only on a temporary basis.
Dr. Punit Garg, who was also a victim to the assault in 2015, continues to practise at KEM. “We do feel threatened. But I don’t see a pattern. I love treating my patients and children. I don’t want to engage in generalisations based on one incident,” says Dr. Garg, explaining why he chose to stay on in the same hospital where the incident occurred. In the aftermath of what happened at Sion hospital, Dr. Garg is among the scores of doctors who have gone on leave to register their opposition to their unsafe working environment.
Concurring with Dr. Kabra on the demand for an imprisonment of minimum 7 years, Dr. Garg says, “When we inform the relatives of the absence of certain facilities, we are at the receiving end of their anger. We become scapegoats in this situation. It is an attack on the profession itself.”
The assaults are usually a result of pent-up emotions of families who perceive doctors as the last resort to save a loved one. Is there an absence of adequate communication between doctors and patients’ families? “The doctors try their best to address the concerns of families. But they are overworked. Patients come in with too many relatives. There can be better communication if the rule of two relatives per patient is implemented, thus reducing the chances of a mob,” said Dr. Kabra.