The Kerala High Court on Thursday said the killing of a 23-year-old doctor at a taluk hospital in Kollam district of the state a day ago by a man she was treating was the outcome of a “systemic failure” and “cannot be brushed aside as an isolated incident”.
A special bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Kauser Edappagath directed the state police chief to “ensure that security is provided to all hospitals in the manner as is legally possible so as to prevent any further incidents of attack”.
The court said as far as the incident in question was concerned, “there was little doubt that the killing of a doctor by a person who was in custody or police — be that as an accused or in any other capacity — points strongly at systemic failure”.
“This is a gruesome incident which should never have happened,” it added.
The bench further said that as matters stand now, lack of protocols or their insufficiency cannot be used as a reason to justify another attack.
The court observed that the manner in which the accused — G Sandeep, a school teacher by profession — was produced in the taluk hospital for treatment “was a recipe for disaster” and it was a “miracle” the nurses attending to him were not attacked.
“We therefore, direct that every protocol that is applicable for production of an accused or persons in custody before magistrates shall apply to presentation of such persons before doctors, healthcare professionals or hospitals concerned,” it said.
The bench also noted that it was informed that even the protocols regarding producing accused before magistrates are “extremely wanting” and it was only due to “providential grace” that any judicial officers have not been attacked.
It said that protocols need to be thought of regarding the manner in which doctors, healthcare workers, students, interns and house surgeons can be protected “because otherwise their faith in the system will erode surely”.
“We, therefore, direct the state police chief to formulate sufficient protocols with regard to the manner in which persons in custody — be that an accused or others — are to be presented in hospitals or before doctors or healthcare professionals as part of the criminal justice system or otherwise,” the court said.
“The police will have to certainly pull up their socks on a war-footing,” the bench said during the hearing.
The court also said that if another doctor or healthcare professional is attacked, the State DGP would be held responsible.
It also urged the police and the state to step in and “make sure the healthcare community is assuaged appropriately”, as if any patient suffers an untoward issue due to the doctors strike, public sentiment might turn against them.
“We are concerned as doctors are on a warpath and hundreds and thousands of patients are waiting in queues for treatment. We are worried if something untoward happens as a result, the public sentiment may turn. It is with the doctors now,” the bench said.
A majority of doctors have not reported to work for the past 24 hours, demanding that the government bring out new legislation for protection of hospitals and healthcare professionals with immediate effect.
The functioning of hospitals has largely been hit across the state due to the agitation by medical students and doctors.
Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and casualties were exempted from the stir, but the Out Patient (OP) services in state hospitals have been affected.
During the hearing of the matter, State Police Chief Anil Kant and ADGP Law and order M R Ajith Kumar told the bench that they would come out with a new set of protocols within a week.
They also told the court that the State Industrial Security Force (SISF) has young, armed and trained personnel picked from the police and are available for deployment at hospitals on payment basis.
However, the state government would have to decide whether they would foot the bill for deployment of these personnel in the government hospitals.
The bench directed the police to place the suggestion before the policy makers.
The top police officers of the state also agreed it was a systemic failure and that the officers present at the scene ought to have protected the young doctor — Vandana Das — with their lives.
The bench observed that after the police officers were stabbed, they ran away while the doctor “transfixed with fear” was unable to escape to safety and was stabbed 11 times by the assailant.
“Even if a police officer lost his life, a doctor should not have. They are not trained to face such situations, but police are,” the bench said.
The ADGP said that the police officers present there did not run away after being stabbed and were instead looking for some means to subdue Sandeep and one of them even hit him with a plastic chair available there to stop him.
Das was killed at a taluk hospital in Kottarakkara area of Kollam district during the small hours of Wednesday by Sandeep who was brought there by police for treatment of a leg injury.
According to the police, Sandeep had called on the emergency number 112, claiming that his life was in danger. When local police located him, he was standing 500 metres away from his home, surrounded by local residents and his relatives, and had a wound on his leg and a stick in his hand.
He was taken to the hospital in a police jeep and was accompanied by his brother-in-law and a local political party leader.
During dressing of his wound, he got violent, initially stabbed the local political leader and the police there and then repeatedly stabbed Das who could not escape to safety, police said.
Das, who suffered grievous injuries in the attack, died a few hours after the incident.