Kerala's Hospital Protection Ordinance and its impact on patientstext_fields
Kerala is a model for the world in the field of health. Compared to other states in India, Kerala has made great strides in this area. Government-run public health centres and medical colleges are functioning here in a very systematic manner. No one can dispute that Kerala's position is with or above the developed countries of the world, By any criteria of health index such as life expectancy, and maternal and child mortality. Keralites have also experienced the benefits of this. The case of the Nipah outbreak reported in Kerala in May 2018 is an example. No one can look at it except with amazement that the Nipah virus, which had been reported only rarely in the world, was contained in just three weeks. Only 17 deaths occurred that day. It was only thanks to be robustness of Kerala's health model that it was able to proceed without serious injuries even though the disease was reported the following year. There is no other reason why Keralites escaped without any serious damage even during the Covid era.
However, there are some worms that change this health pattern. One such incident is the continuous reporting of attacks on health workers. It is not merely an accusation that the society and the government care little for the health and well-being of health workers; it is evident from their own experiences. Recently, Dr Vandana Das, a house surgeon at Kottarakkara Taluk Hospital tragically lost her life due to a stabbing attack. This incident serves as undeniable proof of the perilous situation healthcare workers face. It was against this backdrop that the government was compelled to enact the long-awaited Healthcare Act to safeguard the interests of healthcare professionals. Remarkably, within a week, the government managed to introduce an ordinance on this matter. It can be hoped that with the enforcement of the law, which includes stricter penalties for assaults on healthcare workers, will enable those in the medical field to carry out their duties with increased confidence.
In March of last year, the Rajasthan government proclaimed health as a fundamental right, ensuring that all residents of the state are beneficiaries of various government health schemes and that no one is neglected in any manner. The right to life is a vital principle enshrined in any democratic constitution. And building upon this, numerous countries have now expanded this foundational principle to include 'the right to live with good health'. The United Nations deems mere survival as insufficient, and advocates the ability to lead healthy and content lives. Aligned with this perspective is the emphasis on protecting healthcare workers. The enactment of such legislation by the state government marks a new chapter in Kerala's healthcare model. When health is recognized as a fundamental right, the safety of healthcare workers assumes paramount importance. As per the ordinance, committing, attempting, inciting, or instigating violence is punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of six months and a maximum of five years. Additionally, a fine of up to two lakh rupees can be imposed. Those causing bodily harm can face penalties of up to seven years. It is noteworthy that this law extends beyond doctors and nurses, encompassing security personnel, administrative staff, paramedical students, ambulance drivers, and hospital aides as healthcare workers.
In essence, any form of disrespect towards hospital staff will be regarded as a serious criminal offence. Consequently, with the implementation of this law, the frequency of incidents involving violence, which have been persistently reported, may decrease to some extent. However, it is important to recognise the chances of the law being misused. Definitions for terms like indecency and incitement to violence cannot be precisely outlined, leaving room for interpretation and potential abuse. In such instances, the rights of patients could be compromised. In cases where the law is misused, individuals may find it difficult to file appropriate complaints against hospital authorities and doctors, be it related to medical negligence or other shortfalls. It may be in recognition of this loophole that IMA officials recently emphasised safeguarding the rights of patients. Health is undeniably a fundamental right, and it is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure its protection for both patients and healthcare workers. Let the Ordinance to amend the Kerala Healthcare Service Persons and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2012 serrve as a step towards achieving this goal.