The Kerala High Court on Thursday directed the State Government to widely publicize the heavy penalties that would be imposed for attacks on healthcare workers by patients or their families (Kerala Private Hospitals Association v. Adv. Sabu P Joseph & Ors).
A Division Bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Kauser Edappagath had noted at a previous hearing that there appear to be incidents of "health- rage" attacks on healthcare professionals.
Therefore, the Court had directed the State to take necessary steps to ensure that the provisions of Kerala Healthcare Service Persons and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2012 (2012 Act), which prescribes strong measures and punishments for such acts, are implemented. At the hearing on the matter on Thursday, the Bench stressed that apart from effectively implementing the steps proposed by the government, it is imperative that there is sensitization of the citizenry at large.
In this context, we must also remind the government that it is only through sensitization and education that the citizens be made aware that their actions against doctors and nurses would invite penal consequences under the provisions of the Act. Even though we have suggested this at the Bar last time when this case was listed, we have not come across any public messages or news releases from the side of the government informing the public that such attacks would attract very severe penalties under the provisions of the Act.
Therefore, the Court directed the government to give ample publicity to the penalties that can be incurred for attacking healthcare workers. We, therefore, call upon the competent authorities of the government to ensure that the provisions of the Act are made known to the public at large, including by giving publicity in the premises of the hospitals and also by giving it good circulation through the mainline and online media. Moreover, it directed the police to react swiftly when instances of such attacks are made known to them and investigate and prosecute such matters without delay.
We are certain that the State Police Chief must ensure that necessary instructions are given to all the Station House Officers to react swiftly and quickly in case of any complaint being made to them by the hospitals, and to take necessary action thereon without any delay. The State Police Chief must also overview the various cases that have been registered under the provisions of the Act and ensure that investigation to the same concludes without any avoidable delay and that prosecution on it is taken forward effectively. The Court was hearing a petition preferred by the Kerala Private Hospitals Association, represented by Advocate K Anand, regarding the prices chargeable by hospitals for room rent, post-covid-complications, etc. as per orders issued by the government intermittently. However, the Bench had indicated that it is also dealing with the larger issues at hospitals during the pandemic.
Senior Government Pleader S Kannan informed the Court of the steps proposed by the Government to avert attacks on healthcare workers which mostly include installation of CCTV and appointment of more qualified security personnel.
Senior Advocate Gopakumaran Nair, representing the Indian Medical Association, contended that even though over 278 cases have been registered, attacks are still continuing due to delays in investigation and lax responses from the police. Sometimes certain vexatious social media posts allege malpractice at particular hospitals which lead to untoward incidents as well, he added. The Court concluded in no uncertain terms that such attacks on healthcare workers or an attempt to intimidate or threaten them, for whatever be the reason, can never be condoned or tolerated. It, therefore, directed the Government to publicize the harsh penalties that can be incurred by persons engaging in such behavior and directed the State Police Chief to issue necessary instructions to ensure speedy redressal of such untoward incidents.