The Kerala High Court on Thursday asked the state government and the police to expedite the process of finalising protocols for producing accused or persons in custody in hospitals or before doctors to ensure the safety of those working in the health services sector.
The court also said that prior to finalising the protocols, all stakeholders — including representatives of the various associations representing healthcare professionals and medical students — should also be heard.
“The government will hear the representatives of the Kerala Judical Officers Association, Kerala University of Health Sciences (KUHS), Indian Medical Association, Kerala State Branch, Kerala Private Hospitals Association, Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA) and Kerala Government Medical College Teachers Association (KGMCT), while finalising the protocols for production of persons from their custody,” the high court said.
A bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Kauser Edappagath issued the direction after the police informed the court that the draft protocols have been sent to the government for approval.
Senior government pleader S Kannan, representing the state and the police, told the court that atleast one month’s time would be required if all the stakeholders are to be heard as there were numerous associations representing healthcare professionals and medical students.
However, the court said it will give them a time of two weeks and listed the matter for hearing on June 8.
“Though S Kannan has sought for a month’s time for the above purpose, we are of the opinion that we require to be informed much earlier. Therefore, the decision of the government in this regard shall be made available to us, as far as practically possible, by the next posting date,” the court said.
One June 8, the state government also has to inform the bench regarding the issue of providing compensation, if any, to the family of Dr Vandana Das.
Dr Vandana Das was stabbed to death by a patient — G Sandeep, a school teacher by profession — in the wee hours of April 10 at a taluk hospital in Kerala’s Kollam district.
The bench was hearing pleas regarding safety of healthcare workers in the state and also compensation of Rs one crore for the family of the young doctor.
During the hearing, the government told the bench that it was willing to provide State Industrial Security Force (SISF) security at public hospitals free of cost and that the Health Department has been asked to provide a list of hospitals where the same is required.
While the government said it was not in favour of deploying SISF personnel at private hospitals, the court said that the option may be considered subject to terms, like cost of such security,
“The government will actively consider providing security cover to all hospitals — be that government or private — through the SISF. They will be at full liberty to consider and enumerate the terms, including for payment, by the hospitals in the private sector,” the bench said in the order.
The court, on May 11, had 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 police had, on that date, told the court that the SISF has young, armed and trained personnel picked from the police and are available for deployment at hospitals on payment basis.
Regarding the issue of compensation, Kannan told the court that the issue was being actively considered by the state government.
The court on May 11 had observed that Dr Das’ killing was the outcome of a “systemic failure” and “cannot be brushed aside as an isolated incident”.
Subsequently, the state government had approved an ordinance that 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 those working in the health services sector in the State.
The ordinance was signed on May 23 by Kerala Governor.
Under the Kerala Healthcare Service Workers and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Amendment Ordinance anyone who commits or attempts to commit or incites or inspires an act of violence against healthcare workers or those working in healthcare institutions shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than 6 months and up to 5 years and with a fine between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh.
Furthermore, the ordinance extends the protection under the Act to paramedical students, security guards, managerial staff, ambulance drivers, helpers who are posted and working in healthcare institutions as well as those health workers who would be notified in the official government gazette from time to time.