Medical doctors in the country have tasked the 10th National Assembly to formulate a law that will severely punish patients’ relatives and criminals who attack health workers in the course of carrying out their duties.
The physicians also demanded that such a law should criminalise such an offence, noting that attacks on health workers by relatives of deceased patients have become rampant and worrisome.
In a report on ‘Workplace Violence against Doctors’ published by the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, no fewer than 345 incidents of violence against Nigerian doctors were reported in 2022.
The report stated that 74 per cent of the attacks required medical attention, while 15 per cent were life-threatening.
It noted that 65 per cent of the attacks were due to patient loss (death); 56 per cent due to patients not being attended to promptly (workload); 41 per cent due to poor communication (workload); and 28 per cent due to inadequate security and surveillance.
The World Health Organisation says violence against health workers is unacceptable, warning that such violence has not only a negative impact on the psychological and physical well-being of healthcare staff but can also affect their job motivation.
The global health body says between 8.0 and 38 per cent of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers, mostly perpetrated by patients and visitors.
“Many more are threatened or exposed to verbal aggression. Most violence is perpetrated by patients and visitors. Also in disaster and conflict situations, health workers may become targets.
“As a consequence, this violence compromises the quality of care and puts healthcare provision at risk. It also leads to immense financial loss in the health sector”, the WHO stated.
The physicians, who spoke during an exclusive interview with PUNCH Healthwise, pleaded with the leadership of the National Assembly to treat the matter with the urgency it deserves, lamenting that threats against healthcare workers kept rising and are underreported.
National President of HCPAN, Dr. Austin Aipoh, told our correspondent that the law was long overdue, lamenting that attacks on health practitioners by patients’ relatives have assumed a worrisome dimension in recent times.
Describing the attack as a highly dangerous trend, Aipoh said doctors in the country are becoming an endangered species, as they have become frequent targets of brutal, vicious attacks by families of patients and criminals.
He said, “Attacks on health workers by relatives of deceased patients have been on but not on this large scale.
“The truth is that it has been happening but not of this magnitude. It has reached this level where a relative of a patient assaults doctors or health workers physically or takes the life of a doctor.
“It is very appalling. When there is a law, Nigerians and the public will abide by it. But where there is none, people will do things the way they like and nobody suffers any consequences.”
The physician said establishing a law that will make it an offence to attack health workers in the course of carrying out their duties would help to checkmate the excesses of patients’ relatives.
“If we have a law protecting health workers, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory scientists, and all the like, then anybody who attacks them in the course of carrying out their duties will suffer some consequences.
“So, the National Assembly should come up with a law that will criminalise violent attacks on health workers by relatives because right now, there is no law protecting health workers in Nigeria.
“If anybody injures or kills a health worker, the person will go unpunished because no law says you can’t touch a health worker. The law will go a long way in curbing attacks on health workers by those in society,” he said.
Recall that on December 31, 2022, a medical practitioner, Dr. Uyi Iluobe, according to the Nigerian Medical Association was killed by relatives of a patient at a medical facility in Oghara, Delta State.
Similarly, the Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Bauchi branch, Dr. Adamu Sambo, at a press conference held in July 2022, condemned the assault on one of its members, Dr. Mohammed Sani, by a patient’s relative.
According to him, “On the 8th of July, 2022, Dr. Mohammed Sani, who is the Principal Medical Officer in charge of General Hospital, Misau, was attacked by a patient’s relative with an axe, with the intent to kill him. This act is barbaric; it is unacceptable in the medical profession.”
Also, on December 21, 2022, an angry father and son, descended heavily on a medical doctor and nurse at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta after losing their loved one, who was a 53-year-old female.
According to the NMA Chairman, Ogun State Chapter, Dr. Kunle Ashimi, the father and son slapped the doctor when the death of the woman was announced to them.
Speaking further on this, Aipoh lamented that the attack on health workers had further worsened the acute brain drain being experienced in the health sector.
The public health physician said, “If we have a law made by the National Assembly that makes it clear that anyone that assaults any health worker or medical practitioner, can be jailed, they would learn. People should know that it is God that gives life and doctors can only try their best to save lives.
“No doctor or any health practitioner wants somebody to die because they are not going to gain anything from such death.
“Ours is to save lives and if in the process of saving lives, some lives are lost due to the nature of the illness the person has, then, relatives should not vent their anger on the doctor.
‘This is important, especially now that we are trying to encourage doctors to stay in Nigeria. Nobody wants to stay and if you don’t have doctors in any country, that country will suffer.”
On the issue of requiring police report before treating patients with gunshot wounds, which has in several instances led to attacks on health workers, the medical practitioners, said,” The law in Nigeria now says that if a doctor has a case of a gunshot, he should treat if he can, and then call in the police.
“If you can’t treat, you can only give first aid and refer. Now you can treat a patient with a gunshot wound first and get the police report later.
“When doctors refer patients based on their expertise, it is wrong for the relatives of the patient to vent their anger on the doctor.
“Nigerians need enlightenment to know that a doctor does not know everything. There are areas where he can work, while there also are areas where he can’t work.”
Aipoh finally called for mass enlightenment of Nigerians on such sensitive medical issues.
The National President, National Association of Resident Doctors and Senior Registrar, Department of Orthopaedics and Trauma Surgery, Federal Medical Centre Umuahia, Abia State, Dr. Emeka Orji, also decried the rise in attacks on medical practitioners.
He corroborated the HCPAN president’s statement saying, “We agree with our parent body. We believe the legislation will help address the problem. But you will agree with me that it is a long-term plan. But something has to be done now to tackle the problem. There should be an arrangement to secure the hospitals.”