OPINION: Health Workers And Violation Of The Rights Of Victims Of Gunshot And Other Wounds

Posted by GRANDNEWS | 28 December 2019 | 441 times

* Eguridu

By Honesty Eguridu, Esq

The medical profession is considered a noble profession because it has the very rare privilege of helping in preserving lives. So the doctor or health worker of any description is supposed to be imbued with the instinct to save life when faced with a dying patient in an emergency situation. But in Nigeria the reverse seem to be the case as a large number of hospitals and health workers have been reported to have shown little or zero regard for the sanctity of human lives in emergency situations. Frequent reports indicate that our hospitals prefer to let a victim of accident or violent attack die for failure to present a police report or make initial monetary deposit. This is highly unethical, unlawful and unacceptable.

Some recent casualties of this malaise are worth mentioning here.   It must be pointed out however that these cases became “celebrated” because of the personalities of the victims involve or because their family members cried out. There are dozens of such unreported ugly experiences occurring in our hospitals across Nigeria on regular basis. That is why this topic must be of utmost concern to all Nigerians because anyone can be a victim tomorrow. We can recall that in July 2019 the nation was grieved by the sad news of the untimely death of one Mr. Precious Owolabi, a youth corps member serving at Channels Television News in Abuja, who was shot while reporting the clash between the Nigerian Police Force and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. It was more depressing when reports had it that Mr. Owolabi was allegedly rejected by various hospitals where he was taken to for treatment of his gunshot wounds, which unfortunately led to his untimely and preventable death.

In 2016 it was reported that one Funmi Odusina, a postgraduate student of the University of Lagos, who was in the company of her friends at a Lagos beach, was rescued from drowning, but was rejected by some private hospitals. She died on the way to the Lagos Island General Hospital. Same year or thereabout it was also reported that one Grace Obinna, was violently raped in her Ikorodu home. She was taken to two private hospitals, which refused to admit her. She also died on the way to the Lagos State Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. Again, some months back it was reported in the news that a young lady was hit by a moving car. She was rushed to the nearest hospital but unfortunately, the hospital turned her back because she didn’t have a police report. The young lady died before she could make it to another hospital. And once again the news stand was hit by the sad story of the untimely and preventable death of Miss Moradeun Balogun who was reportedly stabbed by armed robbers and was rejected by a private hospital before she was rushed to the Gbagada General Hospital in Lagos where she died. Although the private hospital denied this allegation and stated that the injury was too severe for them to treat and that she required a vascular surgeon which necessitated them moving her to a tertiary hospital. Her death has re- engendered a national discourse on the menace of hospitals and doctors turning back victims of injuries in need of dire medical attention on whatever flimsy excuse.

The point must be made that it is illegal and criminal for any hospital to turn back a victim of accident or any form of injury on ground of failure to produce police report or for any reason whatsoever. In 2017 the President signed into law the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017, ("the Act"). The Act provides for the compulsory treatment and care for victims of gunshots by hospitals in Nigeria.

It is worthy of note that prior to the enactment of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017, the National Health Act (NHA) 2014 made adequate provisions for the compulsory treatment of victims of any form of injuries by all hospitals and health workers in Nigeria.  Section 20 provides thus: “A health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason.” The NHA stipulated a fine of N100,000, a jail term of six months or both upon conviction for violators of the Act.

The extant provisions of these laws are very clear but why are hospitals and health workers violating these laws with seeming impunity. Perhaps a brief history of the genesis of the problem is necessary. Shortly after the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, armed robbery became rampant.  To check this menace, the military government promulgated the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree No. 47 of 1970. The Decree was amended in 1986 because it was observed that that robbers who escaped with gunshot wounds were being treated at hospitals. The 1986 amendment to the decree stated that hospitals must notify the police if they treated any gunshot victim. Acting on this, the police became overzealous and banned emergency medical treatment for gunshot victims. Many doctors and health workers suffered harassment, arrest, detention and extortion in the hand of the police as a result of this draconian and illegal directive! What this writer however cannot comprehend is how the demand for police report before treatment extended to other emergency situations such as victims of accident and other injuries.

The extant laws regulating the treatment of victims of accident and emergencies resulting from any form of injuries remain the National Health Act (NHA) 2014 and Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017 and these laws prohibits any doctor or health worker  from turning back victims in need of emergency medical attention for failure to provide a police report  or failure to make initial monetary deposit. The policy focus of these legislations is to save life which is the primary function of every health institution. The slogan is “treat first question later.”

Section 1 of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017 provides that 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. Section 2(1) of the Act placed a duty on everyone in Nigeria, including Security agents to assist every victim of gunshot wound to any nearest hospital for immediate medical treatment.  Section 2(2)(a) provides that a person with a gunshot wound shall be received in any hospital in Nigeria for immediate and adequate medical treatment with or without initial monetary deposit.

Section 3 of the Act mandate any Hospital that that receives a person with gunshot wounds for treatment to report to the nearest police station within TWO HOURS of commencement of treatment and upon receipt of this report, the police is required to commence investigation to determine the circumstance under which the person was shot. It should be noted that there is a penalty for failure to make a report as required by the Act. Section 5 of the Act provides that hospitals that fail to make a report as required by the Act are liable on conviction to a fine of N100, 000.00 and every doctor directly concerned with the treatment is equally liable on conviction to for a term of six months or a fine of N100, 000.00 or imprisonment or both. Section 10 also mandates hospitals to contact the family of the victim within 24 hours of identifying such victims. In addition, hospitals ought to ensure a proper record of treatments of gunshot victims are kept. It is clear from the foregoing that the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017 places enormous duties and responsibilities on Hospitals in relation to receiving for treatment victims of gunshot wounds and this writer is of the opinion that hospitals turn back victims of gunshot wounds in order to avoid these duties. For example what happens if a hospital fail to make a report within two hours of receiving a victim for treatment but however made the report after several hours? A private hospital run by a sole medical practitioner may not have enough man power to make a report to the police within two hours and this may constitute a breach of the provisions of the Act. The way forward therefore is a synergy between the police and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) on how to work out a modality of hospitals making such reports via phone calls to designated officers in police stations or Area Commands. This will reduce cost to hospitals and encourage compliance with provisions of the Act which is primarily to save lives and apprehend criminals with gunshot wounds.

It is also important to note that it is an offence to stand by and do nothing with regard to assisting victims of gunshot wounds. Section 11 of the Act provides that any person or authority including any police officer, other security agent or hospital who stands by and fails to perform his duty under this Act which results in the unnecessary death of any person with gunshot wounds commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500, 000.00 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both. The Act also provides in section 13 that a corporate body that commits an offence under the Act and the head of the corporate body shall be prosecuted. Section 14 of the Act makes provisions for restitution and mandates the High Court to order such corporate bodies convicted under the Act to make restitution to the victim, by directing them to pay the victim an amount equivalent to the loss sustained by the victim. An order of restitution may be enforced by the victim or prosecutor on behalf of the victim in the same manner as a judgment in a civil matter. It should be noted that the rights of a deceased victim can be enforced by his personal representatives.

The question that should agitate the mind of every reasonable person is why are hospitals and police officers still violating the provisions of the National Health Act (NHA) 2014 and Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017 with impunity despite the prescribed penalties and remedies for victims of violations? It is because of the culture of impunity in Nigeria and the fact that most citizens are not aware of their rights under these legislations coupled with the fact that the police is the main organ responsible for investigating criminal offences prescribed in the legislations and are also involved in the violations.

The right to life is an inalienable right guaranteed under section 33(1) of the Constitution. “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria” Violators of the provisions of the NHA and Compulsory Treatment Act will therefore be held liable for breaching the right to life of a victim who dies as a result of such violation and a civil suit can be commenced against any hospital or police officer to enforce the victim’s right to life.  It must be pointed out that the right to sue hospitals for violation of the victim’s right to life is not a bar to commencement of criminal prosecution against hospitals and its officials. So if the police or the office of DPP fails to commence criminal prosecution after complaint has been made by family members of any victim of violation of the legislations, the personal representatives or dependants of the victim can approach the High Court for an order of Mandamus to compel the DPP to institute criminal action against the hospital and its erring officials.

The laws have been made by the National Assembly, although no amount of restitution can be commensurate with the life of a person, family members of victims must take advantage of the provisions of these laws and commence legal action against hospitals and prosecuting authorities. That is how the culture of impunity can be curtailed and eliminated. Civil society groups and foundations set up in memory of victims of violations by hospitals should do more by creating avenues for interactions between the police and health workers to forestall incidents of rejection of victims of gunshot and other injuries by hospitals. This ugly trend must be curtailed and stub out from our society because anyone can be a victim tomorrow.

  • Honesty Eguridu, Esq, Managing Partner, Metrocrest Legal Practitioners, Victoria Island, Lagos


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