Why healthcare workers are restive

Last Tuesday, a three-member gang barged into Neendakara Taluk hospital in Kollam district of Kerala and attacked the hospital staff and security personnel with iron rods. This was in retaliation to an altercation between one of the accused and the health workers days earlier. In response to the attack, the hospital staff and medical fraternity went on strike. The police have arrested the members of the gang. However, healthcare workers remain restive since at least 12 such major incidents have been reported in the last one year besides the attacks against doctors that take place almost on a regular basis.

This has caught the attention of the Kerala High Court. While adjudicating on the case, the court directed the authorities to devise a clear plan of action so that hospitals, especially in remote areas, are provided police protection at night and healthcare workers are able to work without fear. It also asked the government to revert on the crowd-control measures it plans to take to enable healthcare workers to do their work without stress.

This is not the first time that the High Court is intervening on behalf of doctors. Last week, the court had refused to grant anticipatory bail to a man accused of obstructing a doctor, pointing out that even an obstruction or hindrance committed on a healthcare person is a grave offence as per the law.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that the State’s public sector hospitals are mostly understaffed. In a casualty ward, sometimes one doctor is forced to take care of 250-300 patients. As a consequence, dissatisfied patients are not a rarity. Doctors working in late evening shifts are the most vulnerable as they often have to deal with those with criminal backgrounds or people coming in an inebriated state. Overcrowding and the lack of competent security arrangements often aggravate the situation.

After one major incident last August, the government had issued orders that CCTV cameras be installed at casualty wings and OPD counters and that such cameras be linked to police aid posts.

The Kerala Health Service Persons and Healthcare Services Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act 2012 has not been a deterrent to these incidents despite its stringent provisions. Doctors say local politicians put pressure on the police not to file cases under the Act, as local people are often involved in such incidents. The police are accused of allowing offenders to abscond or file fake counter cases against doctors.

The deeper problem is the breakdown of trust between people and the medical community. The advancements in health technology and medical diagnostics have improved patient safety, but somehow the message that not all medical complications are due to human error has not been effectively conveyed to the public.

Many of the issues of public distrust might be put to rest if doctors properly counselled the patients. But given the overcrowded hospitals, the shortage of human resources and the acute stress under which healthcare workers function, trust has only declined. The medical fraternity believes that the media’s coverage of incidents of perceived medical negligence have only worsened the situation.

It does not bode well for the health system to have doctors in a combative mood. Creating safe workplaces for healthcare workers is important for improving the delivery of quality service. The State government has made sizeable investments, especially during the pandemic, in augmenting health infrastructure. Increasing human resources and improving the security system would go a long way in boosting the confidence and morale of a weary workforce.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2022 7:23:16 pm |