The ordinance tightening the provisions in the Kerala Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to property) Act, 2012, and cleared by the state Cabinet on Wednesday, seeks to address some of the long-standing complaints of the medical professionals in the state against the lackadaisical attitude of the law enforcers, and society at large, to violence against them.
The ordinance, apart from expanding the definition of healthcare workers and raising the punishment for the attack on them and causing damage to hospital properties, fixes a time frame for the law enforcement agencies and the courts to process complaints — investigation into crimes covered under the law will now be completed in 60 days and the trial in one year. The government will also designate special courts in all districts for the trial of such cases.
It was not the absence of legal provisions that encouraged people to take law into their own hands in hospitals; in the dock is the indifference of the police in investigating the crime and prosecuting the culprits. Reports say there were more than 200 acts of violence in hospital premises in the state in the last three years but not one was convicted.
This situation is not limited to Kerala. Violence against healthcare providers and hospitals is a regular occurrence in almost all states despites acts to protect them. It is important that the state create an atmosphere where healthcare workers can go about doing their job without fear of physical attack, intimidation and verbal abuse. It is now up to the police and the courts to implement the law in its right spirit.
There is a huge mismatch in the demand and supply of medical services in our country: one doctor attends to more than 1,500 people in India against the WHO norm of 1,000 people. This results in allegations of medical negligence and deficiency of service. The government must now put in place a mechanism to address such complaints in a transparent, speedy and fair manner. The rights of both the patients and the healthcare professionals must be protected.