Medical professionals often face a trade-off between the Hippocrates Oath that they take and the necessity of their own well-being.
Unfortunately, abusive and violent behaviour by patients or relatives or those accompanying patients has become one of the attendant risks of the medical profession. It is no surprise then that the medical fraternity has once again called upon the government to enact stringent laws and their proper implementation to curtail this kind of behaviour with the National Medical Commission (NMC) proposing that registered medical practitioners (RMPs) refuse to take on such cases.
The NMC (which replaced the Medical Council of India) is a body that regulates medical education and professionals.
The NMC’s Ethics and Medical Registration Board has issued draft regulations inviting comments from the public, experts, stakeholders and organisations on “National Medical Commission, Registered Medical Practitioner (Professional Conduct) Regulations 2022”.
Comments and suggestions on the draft proposal can be sent by June 22.
“In case of abusive, unruly, and violent patients or relatives, the RMP can document and report the behaviour and refuse to treat the patient. Such patients should be referred for further treatment elsewhere,” the draft proposal says.
“If a change of RMP is needed (for example, the patient needs a procedure done by another RMP), consent should be obtained from the patient himself or the guardian. The RMP who attends to the patient will be fully accountable for his actions and entitled to the appropriate fees,” it added.
Medical professionals often face a trade-off between the Hippocrates Oath that they take and the necessity of their own well-being. Sahajanand Prasad Singh, president, Indian Medical Association (IMA, a panel that represents doctors and their interests), said a doctor would be ethically wrong if he or she refuses treatment to someone in need. So the need of the hour is to have a central law to check such untoward incidents, said Dr Singh.
“The government passed an Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act in 2020 which provided acts of violence against healthcare personnel during any situation akin to current pandemic to be cognizable and nonbailable offences. This law should remain in force forever. If the NMC wants the welfare of doctors, they should work in that direction,” he added.
“The commission or abetment of such acts of violence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000,” says the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Former IMA president Rajan Sharma, who led a nationwide protest condemning violence against doctors in India, said without a Union home ministry law against attacks on doctors, these proposals would do very little to prevent incidents against healthcare workers.
“There has to be strong laws to deal with the rising cases of violence. The regulations made by NMC should be in tandem with the stringent laws from the Union home ministry,” Dr Sharma said.
On his part, IMA general secretary Jayesh Lele, “It’s only a draft regulation, we are going to submit our important observations to the NMC.”
Anuj Aggarwal, general secretary, Federation of Resident Doctors Association of India, said the RMP Professional Conduct Guidelines offers some breather for resident doctors but has some way to go.
“The guidelines give rightful exceptions to patients with life-threatening conditions, which is justified. However, it is important to consider that most of the events in which a patient’s attendants turn violent are when the patient is very critically ill. So this proposal has no role to play in the majority of such scenarios,” he said.
Dr Aggarwal said that while it is a welcome step to curb the issue of rising violence against doctors, a central law would be a better and more effective deterrent.
The government did propose a central protection act and a draft was put in the public domain in 2019 for feedback but it was put on the back burner.