Doctors in India’s 35,000-odd cacophonous, overcrowded government hospitals are learning martial arts to protect themselves after a string of murderous assaults by angry relatives in the none-too-distant past.
Worried stiff, the hard-pressed medicos, including their female colleagues, have been forced to learn the ropes of self-defence skills from black-belt champions as vandalism in hospitals has become the order of the day despite tighter security, stricter laws and strike threats by the clinicians.
The country has been witnessing violence against doctors, nurses, and hospital staff for a decade now but the frequency of inhuman assaults has assumed frightening proportions only in the past few weeks.
As Vijay Kumar, president of Resident Doctors’ Association in Delhi’s famed All India Institute of Medical Sciences, says, doctors become scapegoats of a broken system and get clobbred for no fault of theirs what with the power that be turning a blind eye toward the senseless, deadly attacks.
In the worst incident of its kind in Dhule city of western Indian state of Maharashtra, as many as 20 relatives of an accident victim went ballistic after the latter died in a government hospital and mercilessly thrashed a 35-year-old orthopaedic doctor with rods, chairs and scissors.
In yet another government hospital, in Delhi, a resident doctor and a security guard were brutally bashed up and hospital furniture was smashed to smithereens by a pregnant housewife’s kissing cousins who were barred entry into the all-woman labour room.
In Ahmedabad, largest city of Gujarat, home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a resident doctor and a security guard of a prestigious hospital attached to Asia’s largest state-run Civil Hospital, had a narrow escape when three men who had brought in a fourth-stage breast cancer patient attacked them with a knife after a verbal duel over delay in treatment.
In an ill-equipped hospital on the outskirts of Agra in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, a senior doctor and his two assistants were beaten black and blue by dead-drunk kinsmen of two road accident victims just because they were rightly advised to rush the profusely-bleeding duo to a state-of-the-art hospital in the main city.
No wonder, white-coats in several Indian cities struck work for days on end and later even wore helmets on duty as their symbolic protest but the courts rapped them on the knuckles, saying they could not strike work like factory workers.
The root cause
The root cause of the frequent brawls is shortage of mediciners in public hospitals. A Medical Council of India study says there are 1.01 million allopathic doctors but on any given day, only 80% of them are available for active service.
Indeed, the doctor-population ratio is mere 1:1,560 and the nurse-population ratio is a little better at 1:700 but this is just not adequate for India’s 1.32-billion population.
“The result is that junior medics work round the clock without proper food and sleep and then hardly have the energy to look after each patient resulting in a communication gap and hence have to bear the brunt of public fury”, reasons Dr Satish Patel, one of the country’s top-drawer orthopaedic surgeons.
Dr Rajesh Shah, no-nonsense superintendent of municipal-run L G Hospital in Ahmedabad and robotic surgery expert, has similar views.
According to him, there exists an artificial divide between the medical community and the civil society but it is high time the general public is convinced that only a few physicians are corrupt while most of the doctors go an extra mile to fulfil their medical course pledge for helping and curing their patients.
On their part, hospital authorities have swung into action to ease the doctor-patient friction by beefing up security with burly bouncers, restricting entry to relatives, installing alarms and CCTV cameras as also by asking senior doctors to deal with sensitive cases.
Gujarat High Court advocate Iqbal Masud Khan told this correspondent that only 18 of India’s 29 states and seven Union territories boast of a doctor protection Act and even there, FIRs “are filed and forgotten and the hot-headed, rumbustious relatives go scot-free”.
Medical experts like Dr Mayur Patel admit that assaults on doctors have assumed frightening proportions
The 280,000-member Indian Medical Association (IMA) says that 75 per cent of doctors are bound to face scuffles with patients during their career.
The IMA, which has launched education programmes to encourage doctors to spend more time with their patients, is also lobbying for a national criminal law dealing specifically with escalating attacks on doctors and other health professionals.
But till then, the one million busy-as-beaver, back-to-the-wall government doctors will remain on pins and needles and will be compelled to devote their precious time for taking lessons in taekwondo for saving their own skin.