Docs have a new condition to think about: Self-defence

As Cases Of Attacks On Doctors Across The Country Rise, Hospitals Take Novel Steps To Prepare For ‘Emergencies’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition)9 Feb 2019The proliferation of technology, particularly smartphones, in the country may not be all good news with India ranking among the worst nations for cybersecurity. A study found that more than a fourth of all smartphones and a fifth of all computers are infe

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Their young son, studying engineering in a distant city, had just come home on a break and Sarita Singh was planning a quiet dinner. Then the phone rang. Angry relatives of a patient who couldn’t survive had shot her husband, Dr Sunil Kumar Singh, dead at his hospital in Uttarakhand.

The Hippocratic Oath doesn’t quite cover this. Doctors in India have been facing increasing violence and reports have been streaming in from across the country — Agra to Delhi, Nagpur to Kolkata. Now, they have begun to resort to desperate measures to protect themselves from physical injury or worse. Ironically, some of them said they refuse to admit patients in critical conditions “when it is they who need our care the most”.

It was on April 20, 2016, that Dr Singh, a 51-year-old paediatrician at the time, was killed at the community health centre in Jaspur, Udham Singh Nagar district, where he worked. The assailants later said they were angry that the doctor had refused to treat an ailing young girl who died afterwards.

On September 8, 2018, the Uttarakhand high court ordered compensation of Rs 2 crore to Sarita, and noted that “doctors also risk their lives while performing their duties”. Besides, the court said, Singh was not responsible for the death of the patient. It added that it was the government’s job to protect the life of the doctor

But it was small comfort for Sarita. “Life will never be the same. We were planning a dinner at home that day as my son, who is in engineering college in another city, had come to meet us,” she said.

Physicians in India’s cities and towns feel they have been left to fend for themselves against violent relatives or even mobs, often armed and always dangerous. Doctors at Nagpur’s Indira Gandhi Government Medical College and Hospital (IGMCH) have asked for licensed guns to defend themselves. Talk to them and it’s easy to understand why.

It’s been almost a year, but they still recall last April’s night of terror as if it happened yesterday. A patient had passed away while in the ICU and relatives, who had gathered in huge numbers upon getting the news, started ransacking the place and searching for resident doctors.

“They were armed with knives,” said Dr Vijay Rathod, head of IGMCH’s unit of Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD). “They were baying for blood. Security guards who tried to stop them were attacked. Medical equipment was targeted, ventilators were damaged. It was a miracle that no patients suffered.” IGMCH, popular as

STRONG MEDICINE: ‘Mayo Hospital’, is one of the two staterun medical colleges in Nagpur.

It was following another attack on the night of February 5 that doctors there went on strike and demanded that if the government was unable to provide them security they should be given firearms.

From wearing helmets at work to learning how to protect themselves, resident doctors in Delhi have been doing everything possible. But there is no end to incidents of violence against them in the national capital. Most recently, in January, a doctor at Safdarjung hospital was grievously injured in the face when attendants of a patient attacked him over perceived delay in treatment. In response, the doctors went on strike with their peers elsewhere joining in.

“Poor patients become the unintended victims of such protests but we are helpless. If we don’t raise our voice, the government will never pay any heed and doctors will continue to be attacked,” said Dr Prakash Thakur, president of Safdarjung Resident Doctors’ Association. In March 2017, the resident doctors of AIIMS expressed their anguish over the situation in a unique way: They wore helmets to work.

“It is humiliating to be beaten up or abused for no fault. If there is no ICU bed available or overcrowding, how are we to blame?” a doctor at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital said, adding that there was a need to restrict the entry of visitors inside the hospital.

In Kolkata, such assaults have been happening on a regular basis. In June 2016, a mob went after doctors and medical students at Nil Ratan Sircar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital. In January the same year, RG Kar Hospital came in the line of fire. So frequent had these attacks become that in mid2017, the administration of NRS Medical College started a taekwondo training programme for its junior doctors and medical students. It was the first hospital in the country to introduce such a programme.

“After we started the programme, it has been noticed that the number of such confrontations has reduced significantly. This is because the junior doctors have become mentally stronger and can handle conflict situations without allowing matters to escalate,” said Dr Dwaipayan Biswas, deputy superintendent of the hospital, himself is a taekwondo second dan black belt.

In all this, what is happening in Agra is perhaps the most unfortunate. Private hospitals have stopped admitting patients in serious condition. Speaking to TOI, Indian Medical Association president-elect, Dr Ravi Pachouri, who will assume office in October, said, “We refer them to government hospitals nearby instead. We are too afraid to take the risk.”

(With reports from Durgesh Nandan Jha in New Delhi, Vineet Upadhyay in Nainital, Arvind Chauhan in Agra, Abhishek Choudhari in Nagpur, and

Suman Chakraborti in Kolkata)

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