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'Study, serve, suffer- Doctor attacks and why it's time to get practical' by Dr. Soham D Bhaduri

M3 India Newsdesk Oct 06, 2019

Dr. Soham D Bhaduri laments on the recent brutal attack in Assam that led to the death of a senior doctor, which has come merely a few months after the incident in Kolkata that led many from the medical fraternity to protest. While this time too, there will be many nonpractical 'solutions' being offered, Dr. Soham writes that what the doctor community really needs is stern legal action to stop such attacks.

In less than three months following what could easily be held as the most impassioned, organised outcry ever by Indian doctors against violence on healthcare professionals: the recent West Bengal doctors’ agitation following the assault on a junior doctor at NRS medical college, Kolkata – another equally grisly incident has surfaced, thus running down the hopes of the medical fraternity who might have finally expected some light to dawn on their path.

On Saturday, Aug 31, a 73-year old senior doctor (Dr. Deben Dutta) at Teok Tea estate, Assam – who had retired long ago and was on extended service – was battered to death by co-workers of a temporary worker (the patient) who couldn’t be saved allegedly due to the doctor’s absence from duty at that critical point of time. In May this year, a doctor in Dikom Tea Estate in Assam was similarly assaulted by a mob of garden workers following the death of a woman due to thunderstorm.

Let us remember that Assam already has in place The Assam Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act 2011, which regards violence on doctors to be a cognizable and non-bailable offence. The above should definitely dampen the knee-jerk reaction of activists and advocates who come up with proposals of a stronger law than before every time such infamies occur.

Little do they reflect on the multitudes of such laws already in existence in various states that see abject under-enforcement. During the West Bengal incident, I had highlighted in a column in The Economic Times how the existing laws in this regard suffer not just from under enforcement but also under-awareness, when the Union Health Minister had proposed a law with 12-year jail term for offenders. Also, what could be a sharper smack in the face of our state machinery and collective conscience than the fact that a nationwide agitation against doctor violence that gathered unprecedented media attention and public sympathy a few months ago couldn’t deter an equally gruesome episode shortly afterwards?

Predictably, this time as in every other – intellectuals, including some from the medical fraternity itself, would soon start jumping in with erudite and abstruse analyses of the multiple factors contributing to violent behaviour, and offer high-sounding solutions which have little near-term practicability and relevance. One faction will opine that measures like increasing security and having severe penal provisions for offenders will only undermine trust in the doctor-patient relationship, have counter-productive results, and are thus uncalled for. Another faction will once again futilely reiterate and lament the poor state of public healthcare, partly in an attempt to vindicate the offenders. Yet another faction will subtly attempt to shift the blame onto poor communication skills of doctors, without regard to whether or not there was a chance to communicate effectively at all. Likely also, we will see another doctors’ agitation that would simmer down as quickly as it would steam up, placated by some hollow promises from the government.

Notwithstanding the often discussed ‘long-term’ solutions to doctor violence and their soundness, it is important to identify the pressing challenge at hand and appreciate that crimes such as mob violence have a cascading effect – one incident inspires and engenders many others, and the vice tends to spread like fire unless strong deterrents are installed. Unless there is a heavy and prompt crackdown on offenders by the legal system, such episodes will only multiply.

Practically, there is simply no other effective and immediate deterrent to violence, and it is not surprising that this is an area where we have traditionally fared most dismally – since hardly ever has any case of actual trial and punishment to offenders set the media abuzz. It is critical that the offenders in the present case are immediately sacked and tried to the fullest of available legal provisions, and the trial be given widespread media coverage to highlight the consequences of such odious impulsive acts of violence. The management of the given Tea estate must also be made to shoulder the vicarious responsibility for this heinous act. Doctors groups must rally behind these aims and not relent until the case reaches a concrete and landmark conclusion, rather than once again making just the same conventional demands as a stronger law and better security. It is also necessary that another barrage of suggestions about long term solutions, like improving public healthcare and communication skills, don’t dilute the immediate action agenda. While they are indeed needed, the country cannot afford to lose any more innocent lifesavers on flimsy grounds, especially as these long-term solutions seem as distant from fruition as ever.

Disclaimer- The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of M3 India.

Dr. Soham D. Bhaduri is Editor, The Indian Practitioner; a healthcare commentator; and a medical doctor based in Mumbai.

This article was originally published on 03.09.19

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