Police, Doctors, Cleen Foundation, Others Brainstorm On Gunshot Wounds, Road Accident Victims
How will you feel if a relative of yours is shot, probably, by an armed robber, he/she rushed to the hospital for treatment, only to be rejected by the doctors, and dies? Of course, the doctor's action is not borne out of insensitivity to the plight of the victim or professional negligence.
His dilemma, however, is the law. 'It is a matter of law', you would say. Part of the 'Robbery and Firearms (Special Provision) Act, Cap 398, 1984, states: 'It shall be the duty of any person, hospital or clinic that admits, treats or administers drug to any person suspected of having bullet wounds to immediately report the matter to the police.'
The Act further said, 'It shall be an offence, punishable under this Act for any person to knowingly house, shelter, or give quarters to any person who has committed an offence under Section (2) of this Act.
The Act did not, however, tell the doctors not to treat gunshot wounds victims even if they are robbery suspects.
But it makes it an offence if information of the presence in such hospital or clinic is suppressed and withheld from the police. This vexed issue of hospitals and clinics attempting to or refusing to attend to person with gunshot wounds has always made the doctors, whose duty it is to save lives and police, to be on collision course. The attendant effect had been very grave, as many, sometimes, innocent lives, including road accident victims, had been lost while many lives had been put in danger. Oftentimes, the doctors are torn between obeying the law of the land and carrying out the professional duties, which they swore to the Hippocratic Oath to perform. There appeared to be a missing link between the law and professional or moral obligation.
Realizing the damage done to lives by this Act, Nigeria Police, under the incumbent Inspector-General (IG), Mr. Ogbonna Onovo advised doctors to start treating gunshot wounds with or without police report. But doctors don't trust the police as many of them see the directiveas a booboo trap set by the police to exploit, harass and humiliate them. But the police authorities said this is far from being the truth.
To further find a common ground to resolve this very important issue, a Non-Governmental Organisation, CLEEN Foundation, in collaboration with the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA) and the Lagos State Police Command recently organised a forum in state's branch. With the theme: 'Emergency response to victims of gun violence and road accidents in Nigeria', the forum was to establish if it is justified for relatives of a dying man (gunshot wounds/accident victims to first, get police report before treatment.
Doctors who had fallen victim to police brutality as a result of trying to save lives of victims of gunshot wounds and accidents, used the occasion to narrate their ordeals in the hands of some overzealous policemen while discharging their professional duties.
The police, on the other hand, used the occasion to explain their role as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and Police Act. After all, as law enforcers, they are only enforcing laws they didn't make. Mr. Vincent Brown, an Assistant Commissioner of police (ACP) in-charge of Operations, Lagos State Command, who represented the Police Commissioner, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo, on the occasion, presented a paper entitled: 'An analysis of Witness Protection Programme in the Nigeria Police Force.'
He drew the attention of participants to laws establishing the Nigeria Police, their roles and what the laws expect from the citizens themselves. He cited Section 4 of the Police Act, which says: 'The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria, as may be required by them, or under the authority of, this or any other Act.'
As a way of finding solution to the problem, Brown advised medical practitioners to always acquaint themselves with the Area Commanders and the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs in their areas. 'Where these categories of officers are not accessible, the Commissioner of Police and his lieutenants should be reached,' he said.
Earlier in welcome remarks, the Executive Director of CLEEN Foundation, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, said the interactive forum which was supported by Mac-Arthur Foundation, was designed to identify challenges to effective co-ordination among stakeholders, in response to victims of gun violence; road accidents and other emergencies people encounter everyday.
According to him, it was also designed to reach an agreement on a set of measures that could be implemented to improve the situation. He said: 'You would agree with me that providing timely and effective response to trauma victims has been a major concern in Nigeria. Apart from the inadequate state of physical and social infrastructure for providing such aid, lack of coordination and cooperation among role players charged with such responsibility has been seriously implicated.'
'The unintended consequence is that on yearly basis, thousands of Nigerians lose their lives and limbs in road mishaps and gun violence under circumstances where timely help could have made the difference between life and death,' Chukwuma said.
The Executive Director said that the objectives of the forum were to identify root causes of perceived lack of coordination and cooperation among stakeholders, charged with first line response to victims of gunshot wounds and road accidents; sensitize them on the importance of their roles and facilitate better understanding of the challenges each of the stakeholders face in discharging their functions to victims of violence, among others.
In his opening remarks, the Chairman, N MA , Lagos State branch, Dr. Ademola Dada, explained that so much tension had been generated by the difficulties encountered by medical practitioners, especially, the private doctors, on treatment of gunshot injuries and sometimes victims of road traffic accidents.
He attributed this to the relationship between the law enforcement agents and the medical practitioners.
He said: 'Indeed, the situation is such that medical practitioners are often placed between 'deep blue seas' and the 'hard places'. There are instances where doctors have been arrested for performing their duty of treating gunshot victims and have had to report at police stations endlessly for allegedly not reporting these cases.
Where they have reported the cases, there are instances where information about such reported cases have filtered back to the patients and this have resulted in dire consequences for the doctors.' He argued that the onus of reporting to the police should be the responsibility of the relatives of patients, without it affecting the care of the patient.
According to him, the role of the doctor would be to co-operate with the law enforcement agents in the investigation. He said Nigeria should evolve a means of paying for the services rendered to victims of accidents and gunshot wounds, as the hospitals are business concerns, whose aim is to offer services for profit, adding that they also have a duty to their employees and responsibility to maintain the standards of their services.
The Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) in-charge of Zone 2, Mr. Azubuko Udah, said the forum would help the police and doctors to synergise their efforts to tackle emergency situations.
The AIG stressed the need to empower the hospitals and to motivate the doctors to enable them handle emergency situations. He, however, said there are laid down procedures for handling emergency situations like accidents and gunshots wounds. The police boss, who used the forum to clear many issues also bordering on the relationship between the Nigeria police and the society, said policemen are not immune to emergency situation, disclosing that 630 police officers were killed by hoodlums between last year and this month.
He, however, commended CLEEN Foundation and the NMA, Lagos State Branch, for organizing the Forum.
Dr M.E. Ugbeye delivered a paper on, 'An appraisal of emergency response system to victims of trauma in Nigeria,' while Dr Femi Jegede delivered a paper on, 'Option for funding of care: A critical examination of the Nigeria Health Insurance Scheme.'