Universally, the paramount responsibility of any healthcare worker is to save lives, just as it is the natural instinct of man to exhibit care, sympathy, compassion and care towards each other.
It is particularly essential to show deep empathy to those who are distressed or suffering in one form or the other. This is basically what differentiates man from animals.
Several stories abound of tragic deaths that have occurred over the years due to gunshot and other related injuries because people with such wounds were routinely rejected by medical facilities.
This is often as a result of the tendency of the police to harass and incriminate medical doctors and other medical personnel for treating such victims without obtaining clearance, usually referred to as Police Report, from the police.
This might not be unconnected to the erroneous assumption by the police that every gunshot victim might have been an armed robber who escaped from police bullets.
Police officers are known to visit medical facilities, and on many occasions arrested or detained the hospital staff simply for being humane and staying true to their professional ethics in discharging their duties.
Consequently, medical managers appear to have set an unwritten rule against receiving such victims that can lead to hassles from the police. To them, it is a way of protecting their jobs and livelihood.
However, the hospital’s rejection of emergency cases of this nature borders on the abuse of the most important fundamental human right – the right to life, enshrined in Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. No one, the constitution emphasizes, shall be deprived of it, save in the execution of capital offence, for which the person had been found guilty by the court.
Families recount cases of losing loved ones under traumatic circumstances, whereas these deaths could have been avoided if they had received medical attention as at the time they were presented for treatment and not rejected by medical personnel. A very recent case is that of a Podcast presenter, Moradeun Balogun, described by friends as someone who had a beautiful soul and just wanted to flourish, another budding potential cut down in her prime.
Bayo Ohu of The Guardian, who was shot in his Lagos home in 2009 by suspected assassins also lost his life in pointless circumstances. According to reports, he was rejected by the first hospital he was taken to. Sadly, by the time he was taken to a public health facility, he was pronounced dead. The death of Saka Saula, a former chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Lagos State chapter, in 2008, also followed the same pattern.
One cannot quantify nor imagine the negative socio-economic effects these avoidable deaths. Sadly, it could have been avoided if health care providers were conversant with the compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot and Traumatic Accidents Act, 2017, which stipulates that victims of gunshot and traumatic accidents should receive immediate treatment when presented to healthcare facilities.
THE SANCTITY OF LIFE
Now, it is difficult to really understand why medical workers who are fundamentally trained to save lives would consider the presentation of Police Report far above the human life that is at stake at such crucial moments. In most cases, family members and other sympathizers of gunshot victims are often too shock to have the stability of mind to think rationally. Imagine what the frame of mind of a woman who virtually watched as her husband was being brutally murdered would be at that particular moment. This is exactly why it is crucial for health workers to always consider the sanctity of the human life in such decisive circumstances.
The concept of the sanctity of life is anchored on the sacred nature of life, and the fact that everything that is humanly possible must be done to preserve life. Every other thing that man losses can, one way or the other, be restored, but when a life is lost, it is gone forever. Considering, especially, the Hippocratic Oath that is binding on medical doctors, all over the world, the desire to save life should be central in all their concerns. Health workers have the fundamental task of first and foremost caring for the injured and the sick on the basis of the ethics of their profession.
Aside the humanitarian and professional perspectives, it is equally legally wrong for medical workers to insist on the production of Police Report before attending to victims of gunshots. It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017 and this should ordinarily put to rest the contentious issue once and for all. With President Buhari’s assent to the law, victims of gunshot and car accidents should receive immediate treatment in the hospital.
The law makes provisions for obligatory treatment and care for victims of gunshot as it stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without initial monetary deposit. The Act also stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the police and other security agencies.
By the passage of the Bill by the Senate and eventual assent to it by the President, a legal framework to guarantee that all hospitals in Nigeria accept to treat victims of gunshot wounds without demanding for any clearance from the Police Report has been established. The law is primarily concerned about access to medical care, irrespective of circumstances leading to the gunshot. Therefore, suitable treatment from medical workers and essential assistance from security agencies should follow treatment of gunshot victims irrespective of the cause of the shooting. This becomes rather very essential in view of the fact that it is not every gunshot wound victim that is a criminal.
Fortunately, the Nigeria Police Force has stated that it is the duty of hospitals to receive and safe life of gunshot victims first before reporting to the police within two hours.
Consequently, Mr. Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer and a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), assured that the Police would not in any way operationally or administratively come in-between medical practitioners and the discharge of their fundamental responsibility.
According to Mr. Mba, medical practitioners are to report victims of gunshot wounds after they might have stabilized and saved their lives, not before.
The Spokesman further stated that the Police Force encourages treatment of gunshot victims because they could assist them in crime investigations.
In similar vein, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, has appealed to all health care providers, including public and private health facilities operating in the state to stop the trend of rejecting gunshot victims and other trauma patients on the excuse of a Police Report or the need to provide evidence of funds before commencing treatment.
Prof. Abayomi was reacting to investigations by the State Ministry of Health, which revealed that some health facilities in the state are fond of rejecting or delaying care to trauma victims. The Commissioner noted that, on many occasions, such patients are not in a position to discuss the incidence nor the finance since and they are often brought in by Good Samaritans.
In line with the Federal Act of 2017, Abayomi urged hospitals, health centers and clinics to offer immediate comprehensive care to gunshot victims and other trauma patients without any hindrance. He further reiterated that health care providers hold it duty bound, according to their professional oaths, to first save lives by offering immediate attention to any patient requiring urgent critical and lifesaving supportive care before any other considerations.
Abayomi noted that the Gunshot Act, 2017 makes provision for prosecution. He, therefore, warned that the state government will not hesitate to explore and apply suitable sanctions against facilities that contravene the principle and spirit of the act.
Beyond being compelled by the Gunshot Act, 2017, it is important that medical personnel abide by the Hippocratic Oath which they swore, to save lives first and reach out to humanity before these deaths further escalate and become an evil that has come to abide with us.
The need for increased awareness and enlightenment, as it concerns this issue, cannot be overemphasized. It is, thus, essential that both the citizens and medical practitioners are conscious of the provisions of the law.