V D Satheesan | Photo: PTI
Thiruvananthapuram: Hours after the LDF government in Kerala on Wednesday approved an ordinance laying down stringent punishments for offences against those working in health services, the Congress-led UDF which is in opposition said making laws is not enough, doctors should be protected in real-time.
The medical community, meanwhile, welcomed the ordinance, but said that they would like to wait and see how it was going to be implemented.
The ordinance provides for stringent punishment, including imprisonment of up to seven years and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh for those found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to doctors, medical students, and others working in the health services sector in the state.
The decision, taken in a cabinet meeting chaired by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, came in the wake of the brutal killing of Dr Vandana Das by a patient at a taluk hospital in Kollam district last week.
Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly V D Satheesan said that someone who attacks a doctor or nurse or any other healthcare worker under the influence of drugs or alcohol -- as has been the case many times -- would not be concerned that there is a law in place.
"Making laws is not enough. They (doctors) should be protected. We need police officers to be there protecting the doctors, instead of running away. That is what happened recently. You saw them run away.
"Even the Kerala High Court said that the state and the police failed to protect the young doctor," he said, speaking to reporters at a press conference held here.
Satheesan said that providing stringent punishments was not going to act as a deterrent if the offences were bailable. "You need to make the offences non-bailable as punishments would be given by courts only after a trial which will take time," he said.
So, releasing them on bail after arrest will not act as a deterrent no matter how stringent the punishment is, he added.
Meanwhile, various associations representing medical professionals and students welcomed the government's move.
The Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA) said it was good that the government came out with the ordinance.
"We already had an Act to protect doctors and hospital properties from such attacks. So how this new act is going to be executed is more important," KGMOA president Dr Suresh T N said with cautious optimism.
He also said that there were other issues -- such as shortage of doctors to take care of patient rush in government hospitals -- which also requires the urgent intervention of the state administration.
President of the House Surgeons' association Dr Ananya Wilson appreciated the government's initiative, saying the young doctors are waiting to see how it is going to be implemented.
The postgraduate students' association too viewed the government's move positively. "We hope that this ordinance, with a stronger punishment for assaulters, would change the attitude of society towards the medical community and stop such assaults," Dr Swathy S Krishna, joint secretary of the Kerala Medical postgraduate students association, said.
Besides the enhancement of punishment, the ordinance states that the trials in cases lodged under the Act must be completed in a timely manner, and that special courts will be designated in each district to ensure speedy adjudication, a government statement said.
The ordinance also states that cases registered under the Act must be investigated by a police officer who is not below the rank of inspector and the probe must be completed within 60 days of registration of the FIR, the statement added.
Furthermore, the ordinance extends the protection under the Act to paramedical students, security guards, managerial staff, ambulance drivers and helpers who are posted and working in healthcare institutions, as well as health workers who would be notified in the official government gazette from time to time, it said.