Doctors' strike: West Bengal already has laws to deter violence against medicos

The protest started by the junior doctors in all state-run medical institutions in West Bengal, after two of their colleagues were assaulted by a mob at the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on 10 June, 2019, has grown and gathered momentum over last one week. Not only has it garnered support from the senior doctors and the medical community across the country, but it has also raked up the issue of the efficacy of laws preventing such violence on health professionals.

In a country like India, the poor doctor-patient ratio and the substandard infrastructure in state hospitals often contribute to less-than-desirable treatment quality. The junior doctors, who are more accessible to the patients and their relatives, often become the victims of the ire of the aggrieved parties. A study by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) reported that about 75 percent of the doctors in India have faced violence at some point in time. There are laws providing recourse against doctors and hospitals in case of medical negligence. However, mob justice (sometimes accompanied by media trial) often takes precedence such situations.

After the NRS incident, Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Union Health Minister, wrote a letter to the chief ministers of all the states urging them to take strict action against any person who assaults doctors. He also referred to a letter dated 7 July 2017 sent by the Union Health Ministry to all the states, containing a recommendation of an inter-ministerial committee. It suggested the state governments should enforce relevant provisions of Indian Penal Code (“IPC”) / Code of Criminal Procedure (“CrPC”) and also provisions of specific state legislation and to enact such legislation wherever they are lacking.

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