Nigerian doctors are becoming endangered species, as they are now frequent targets of brutality and vicious attacks by families of patients and criminals. In the past three weeks, there have been over nine attacks on doctors across the country. A report on Workplace Violence against Doctors published by the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors said no fewer than 345 incidents of violence against Nigerian doctors were reported in 2022. This is a highly dangerous trend, which the government at all tiers must arrest quickly.
The report said 74 per cent of the attacks required medical attention, while 15 per cent were life-threatening. It noted that 65 per cent of the attacks was due to patient loss (death), 56 per cent due to patients not being attended to promptly (workload), 41 per cent due to poor communication (workload), 28 per cent due to inadequate security and surveillance, 26 per cent due to lack of facilities and drugs, 24 per cent due to patient intake capacity being overwhelmed, and 23 per cent due to the personality of the perpetrator.
The World Health Organisation says between 8.0 and 38 per cent of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers, mostly perpetrated by patients and visitors.
In this, nurses at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Ondo State staged a protest on the premises of the hospital over the alleged assault of their colleagues by some relatives of a dead patient In February 2021. The relatives of the dead patient, who was brought to the hospital on a Saturday, reportedly invaded the ward where the patient died the following day, beating the nurses on duty, and blaming them for the death of the patient.
This is barbaric. In a decent society, nobody takes the law into his own hands.
Similarly, there was pandemonium at the Osun State University Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, when some hoodlums, said to be graduates, attacked workers at the hospital over the death of a patient in April 2022. The hospital said the group invaded the accident and emergency unit of the facility and beat up doctors and nurses on duty after the death of the yet-to-be-identified patient. Doctors are life givers; they should not be attacked.
But on New Year’s Eve, gunmen assassinated a doctor, Uyi Iluobe at his hospital, the Olive Clinic, in Oghara, Delta State. The case is still being investigated. In December 2022, The PUNCH reported that an angry father and son attacked a medical doctor and a nurse at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, after losing a family member. The duo slapped the doctor when the news of the death of their relative was conveyed to them.
This is wrong, no matter the frustration and pain from the death of a loved one. Apart from the fact that violence against doctors will not bring back the dead, assault and battery are criminal offences. There are proper channels to report these grievances and they will be determined by relevant authorities if there is a case. There is also the option of seeking redress in a court of law.
The NARD President, Emeka Orji, said violence against healthcare workers is on the rise in the country. It compounds Nigeria’s abysmal healthcare indices. As of October 2021, the Nigeria Medical Association said only 24,000 actively licensed physicians are caring for a population of 216 million partly because of brain drain in the country.
He said, “We feel that this will continue to increase if the government does not take action to stop it. A lot of Nigerians are frustrated; a lot of medical personnel are leaving in droves; and patients do not understand what we are suffering and why it cannot work. When you have one doctor doing the work of 100 doctors, you will not be able to give your best, and patients will put their frustration on you. Even if a patient or relative is worried about the treatment they have received, there are laid-down rules for seeking redress; you do not take laws into your hands.”
It is possible that some medical personnel can be lackadaisical at their duty post. Some are very unempathetic and act in a way that is unbecoming of the medical profession. There have been cases where some doctors are careless enough to abandon tools in the stomachs of the patients they had performed surgery on. A 200-level student at the University of Lagos, Patience Udunze, told The PUNCH how a nurse in a health facility gave her a wrong diagnosis at six years old that blinded her. Although the quack nurse allegedly fled the country and the facility was shut down by the government, her sight is gone.
But medical negligence occurs in other places; only it does not degenerate into violence, as being currently experienced in Nigeria. For instance, in the period of 2020/21, there were 12,629 clinical claims made against the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, a 133 per cent increase from the 2006/07 number of 5,426, says law firm Wright Hassall, on its online resource platform.
It is true that the workload in the hospital in Nigeria can be voluminous, especially with a shorthanded workforce, but medical practitioners need to be more circumspect, knowing that just one mistake can damage or cost the life of a patient. The Hippocratic Oath stresses the point that being a doctor has lots of responsibilities, including protecting patients using the highest medical standards. Nurses, too, do pledge similarly to do their best for the patients they care for. In Nigeria, it does not seem that many health practitioners take these oaths into consideration when they interface with the patients who throng their health facilities as a place of succour.
However, families of patients must not descend low and attack medical practitioners.
As for the government, it should provide adequate security at the hospitals and install CCTV cameras at strategic points to capture various incidents. All those identified should face prosecution. This will forestall further attacks. The chief medical directors need to be more proactive in protecting their staff members.
The Federal Ministry of Health and state health ministries must agree on standard compensation when doctors are negligent. According to the National Health Service Resolution, the body for resolving disputes in the United Kingdom, the average NHS negligence pay-out is estimated at around £50,000 per case. This compels medical practitioners to be diligent.
Both the NARD and the NMA and all other associations concerned with medical care must sensitise their members on their work ethics. They must do the job they signed up to do without compromising.