BY OLAMIDE SHABA
The rate at which doctors decline treatment to patients with gunshot wounds is becoming alarming in recent times hence, there is urgent need to check legal framework regulating medical practitioners in this regard.
It becomes disheartening to know that a lot of people have lost their lives prematurely owing to the persistent refusal of medical practitioners to treat patients with gunshot wounds. In view of this, it becomes germane to know the position of the law in this regard.
Medical practitioners, going by the provision of the law, are bound to accept patients of gunshot wounds. Section 1 of Compulsory Treatment and Care For Victims of Gunshots Act subsequently referred to as (CTCVGA) provides “ ….. every hospital in Nigeria whether public or private shall accept or receive, for immediate and adequate treatment with or without police clearance, any person with a gunshot wound.” This particular provision empowers hospitals to always accept gunshot patients with or without police report.
The provision of the act is very clear to the extent that presentation of police clearance is optional, and not compulsory.
Often time, hospitals have declined to attend to patients of gunshot without presentation of police clearance which the act clearly says it’s optional. Most hospitals in Nigeria have breached this particular provision with impunity which is disastrous to patient’s life, because when a life is lost, nobody can bring it back.
Section 2(b) of CTCVGA provides that “a person with a gunshot wound shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture….) Asking for Police report when a patient’s life is in jeopardy and passing through severe pains, agony and trauma is sheer wickedness and in contravention of this particular provision..
Human life is important, crucial and is to be treasured without reservations, being a fundamental right but unfortunately, our medical practitioners in Nigeria don’t treasure patients’ lives by their failure to attend to patients for treatment.
The Physicians’ Oath in Oath of Allegiance for medical practitioners provides “THE HEALTH OF MY PATIENT WILL BE my first consideration” has been breached countless time by medical practitioners by their failure to attend to patients of gunshot wounds.
Medical Practitioners’ primary duty is to save lives, but refusal to attend to victims of gunshots is a breach of duty and oath of allegiance.
The act never forbids attending to patients of gunshot wounds with or without police report, what the act provides for is that the hospitals are to notify nearest police station within two hours of commencing treatment on a patient of gunshot wounds. Section 3(1) of CTCVGA provides “A hospital that receives or accepts any person with a gunshot wound for treatment shall report the fact to the nearest police station within two hours of commencement of treatment.” This particular provision has been the reason or justification for failure to comply with the provisions of the act religiously as argued by some doctors.
However, I will discuss the shortcomings of this provision in the next paragraph but regardless, the extant law is the law of the land and should be obeyed whether favorable or not until otherwise repealed or amended by the law makers. Some of the shortcomings of this particular provision are;
Medical personnel often time, complain about the assault, battery, needless questions/interrogations, and unwelcomed report of patients of gunshot wounds at the Police station. Some police stations put such medical personnel behind the bar for saving the life of patients without police report.
This is one of the arguments brought up by some doctors for rejecting patients with gunshot wounds without police report.
Definitely, nobody wants to be in cell, the reason why medical practitioners are always reluctant to treat patients of gunshots without police report.
Some other arguments by medical practitioners in recent time are that the time provided by the law to report at the police station patients of gunshot wounds after commencing treatment on such patient is obviously too small. Section 3(1) of CTCVGA provides “A hospital that receives or accepts any person with a gunshot wound for treatment shall report the fact to the nearest police station within two hours of commencement of treatment.” There are some situations where there are complications and medical practitioners spend beyond two hours treating such patient hence, they won’t be able to report at the police station within the time provided by law.
This literally means that medical practitioners are tending to breach this particular provision. Section 5 of CTCVGA provides the penalty attached. It provides that “A hospital that fails to make a report under section 3 of this Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of #100,000.00 and every doctor directly concerned with the treatment is equally liable on conviction to a term of six months or a fine of #1000,000.00 or both.”
Most of the time, some hospitals are confronted with challenges of shortage of staffs. Hence, there are nobody available to report at the police station patients of gunshot wounds within two hours of commencing treatment because the little staffs available will also be attending to other patients in critical conditions in the hospital.
Having identified the legal position about patients of gunshot wounds and the challenges, my humble recommendations are;
1. Our lawmakers should as a matter of urgency increase or enlarge the time frame at which hospitals are to report at police station, patients of gunshot wounds. Two hours is ridiculously too small.
2. Our Police and Medical practitioners are to be sensitized about provision of the law that patients of gunshots wounds are not compelled by law to present police report before they can be treated or attended to.
3. Police officer that assaults or batters medical practitioner for treating patients of gunshots wounds without police report are to be strictly penalized.
4. Legal actions are to be brought against hospitals and medical practitioners that refuse to treat patients without police reports and damages are to be awarded against them.
SHABA OLAMIDE DAVID