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Rising cases of assault on doctors stir concern in health sector

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Medical negligence, malpractice inflate the rate of untimely deaths

Despite the numerous issues Nigerian doctors are battling with, ranging from poor remuneration to lack of welfare and precarious working conditions, among others, the cases of assault on them by patients, and relatives of patients keep increasing, thereby posing threats to their physical and mental health.

In January 2024, The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) urged the National Assembly to swiftly pass a law criminalising assault on healthcare professionals in Nigeria.

This is due to the increasing rate of assault on doctors at their duty posts.

The association disclosed that the recent cases happened at UNIOSUN Teaching Hospital, Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital, Lafia, Nasarawa State, and the Federal Teaching Hospital (FTH), Lokoja.

Based on a report by NARD, titled ‘Workplace Violence Against Doctors’, at least 345 incidents of violence against doctors were reported in 2022, adding that 74% of these assault cases needed medical intervention, while 15% were life-threatening.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 8% and 38% of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers. The report stated that the well-being of healthcare professionals is threatened by violence inflicted on them by patients and visitors, thereby causing detrimental effects on their psychological and physical well-being.

“Also in disaster and conflict situations, health workers may become the targets of collective or political violence.” Categories of health workers most at risk include nurses and other staff directly involved in patient care, emergency room staff, and paramedics.

“Violence against health workers is unacceptable. It has not only a negative impact on the psychological and physical well-being of healthcare staff but also affects their job motivation. 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 report stated.

In an interview with our correspondent, Dr. Nzubechukwu Ogamba, shared his experience of violence at duty post during his National Youth Service as a medical officer in Government Hospital Owa-Alero, Delta State.

“During my National Youth Service, I was a medical officer in Government Hospital Owa-Alero, Delta State. On the 11th of March, 2023, I was on call. When a doctor is on call, it means that you are the only doctor in the hospital that day, handling everything from emergencies, to seeing patients in the ward and handling the clinic. I started my ward rounds early in the morning and I got to this patient that was admitted some days back, three days before that day.

“I had not been on call so I hadn’t done ward rounds before that day. The case was a tetanus case involving a young boy. Following my assessment, I deemed it fit to refer the patient for higher care because the patient was deteriorating and might come down with a situation that might require some form of intubation, which we could not do in a facility like ours because we were limited in terms of infrastructure and expertise. I explained the present situation to two of his siblings, that their brother had to go to a central hospital that I expected him to receive Specialist care,” he said

Dr. Ogamba stated that the patient’s relatives physically assaulted him. Aside from this, the relatives threatened the health workers in the hospital while taking the patient away. He further explained that he suffered physical injuries, adding that the experience had consequential effects on his mental health.

“After my ward rounds, I went back to the doctor’s lodge. While I was in my room eating, the health assistant rushed to call me. On entering the room where the patient was, two of his brothers pointed at me, saying this is the doctor. One heavy man pounced on me, hitting me on my chest. I staggered and fell. As I was struggling to stand up, they picked up stones and bottles. I started running while they chased me until I sought refuge in the pharmacy. They took their relative away from the hospital threatening us while leaving. It was a horrible experience. I sustained injuries. Beyond physical injuries, I had mental trauma following the incident,” he narrated.

He talked about the role of relevant medical associations in Nigeria in ensuring justice was served. After pleadings from the community and the family of the perpetrators, the case was withdrawn.

“The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) played a strong role, Delta State Hospitals Management Board and, the Ministry of health, weighed in as much as they could to ensure that there was justice and we set an example so that the physical attacks on health workers reduce,” he stated.

Another doctor who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity narrated his experience.

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“The incident happened in 2023, where I was serving as a corps member. I was the Doctor on call that day. The normal procedure when you are on call is for you to be in the hospital from 4 pm to 6 pm to attend to patients. Afterwards, you can go to your lodge, which is within the hospital premises but if there is an emergency or you need to see a patient, you will be called.

“This woman came in around 5 pm with her child complaining that her child was running a temperature. I saw them and did some investigations, and I told them to go to the Lab. They went to the lab and came back with the result of the investigation. I noticed that the child’s blood level was low and I requested that the child should be transfused, which involved going back to the lab to get the appropriate blood the child will use. I waited in the clinic till 6 pm but they weren’t back from the lab. I left the clinic to the doctor’s lodge. Around 7pm, I was called for an emergency”.

While attending to an emergency case, the doctor said the father of the child approached him, yelling at him to attend to the child. The doctor, who was still attending to the emergency case told him to be patient. Surprisingly, the father of the child and four other men walked up to him, yelling at him to leave the emergency case and attend to the child. All efforts to explain the situation to the men proved abortive as one of them hit him twice on the chest and forced him to attend to the child.

“After this, I stopped everything and ran for my life. Later on, I asked the nurse why she didn’t call me when the patient arrived, she said they came in at the same time the emergency arrived. She said she volunteered to put the cannula on the child’s hand but they refused and insisted that they wanted to see the doctor. That was all that was needed,” he recounted.

Although, hospital authorities were notified, nothing was immediately done. However, justice eventually prevailed.

“It turned out that the mother of the child’s father was involved in an accident and they brought her to the hospital. One of the lab personnel recognised the mother of the child. The management of the hospital was notified and they called the police. The mother of the child was taken into custody and I was invited to the police station. The woman said the husband had left the country. The police assured me that they were investigating the case.”

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