Thiruvananthapuram/Kochi/Kottayam | In the wake of widespread protests by doctors over the killing of a young doctor a day ago, the Kerala government on Thursday decided to issue an ordinance to ensure the safety of healthcare professionals in hospitals. Doctors intensified their agitations today, seeking justice for Dr Vandana Das who was stabbed to death at a government hospital in Kollam district by a man brought there by the police in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Following this, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened an emergency high-level meeting and decided to issue an ordinance to amend the hospital protection law.
The ordinance to amend the Kerala Healthcare Service Persons and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2012 would be introduced in the next cabinet meeting, a statement issued by the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) said.
It was also decided that police outposts would be set up in all major hospitals in the state, the statement said. State Health Minister Veena George, Chief Secretary V P Joy along with the secretaries of health, law, and medical education, the state police chief, ADGPs, and various other officials attended the meeting.
The government's decision came hours after the Kerala High Court said that the incident that led to the killing of the young medical professional had been an outcome of "systemic failure".
Dr Vandana Das, a native of Kaduthuruthy area of Kottayam district and the only child of her parents, was a house surgeon at Azeezia Medical College Hospital, who was working at the Kottarakkara taluk hospital as part of her training.
She was stabbed several times, and later succumbed to her injuries. Following the attack on her, protests erupted in various hospitals across the state, with healthcare professionals, medical interns, students and house surgeons taking to the streets.
Taking up the matter earlier in the day, the Kerala High Court slammed the state government and the police for failing to protect the young doctor.
The High Court termed the killing of doctor Vandana Das by G Sandeep, a school teacher by profession, as the outcome of a "systemic failure", and said it "cannot be brushed aside as an isolated incident".
It directed state police chief DGP Anil Kant to "ensure that security is provided to all hospitals in the manner as is legally possible so as to prevent any further incidents of attack".
The court also directed that sufficient protocols be created with regard to the manner in which persons in custody -- whether they are accused or others -- are to be presented in hospitals or before doctors or healthcare professionals, as part of the criminal justice system or otherwise.
"The police will have to certainly pull up their socks on a war-footing," a bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Kauser Edappagath said.
Later in the evening, at the meeting chaired by the CM, the government decided to strengthen security in hospitals run by it, by dividing them into three categories, with the first category comprising medical colleges, district hospitals, general hospitals, and women's and children's hospitals where police outposts would be set up.
The CMO statement did not mention details about the other two categories of hospitals.
Besides police outposts, there should be comprehensive police surveillance, CCTV cameras, and warning systems in all three categories of hospitals to create conditions where doctors and other healthcare professionals could work safely, the CMO statement said.
Additionally, a security audit would be conducted every six months in all hospitals by the health and police departments under the supervision of the concerned district collectors. "It was also decided in the meeting to explore the possibility of appointing two doctors in the emergency wards of government hospitals at night," the statement said.
Regarding taking accused persons and those of a violent nature for medical examination, the CM said a special security system should be put in place for that.
Some of these measures, including the issuance of the ordinance and the installation of CCTV cameras, were suggested by the Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA) in a letter to the CM for strengthening security in state-run hospitals.
The KGMOA thus withdrew its agitation after the CM's announcement about the proposed ordinance.
The association of medical professionals had also suggested that armed police be deployed at aid posts to be set up at hospitals that have emergency wards. Apart from this, it also sought the implementation of government orders regarding the triage system in such wards and the appointment of more chief medical officers (CMOs) so that there can be two CMOs in every shift in such wards.
With regard to the medical examination of persons in police custody, the association suggested making arrangements, including the appointment of more doctors in jails.
Prior to sending the letter, KGMOA and other doctors' associations met Vijayan in the morning and discussed with him their grievances and demands.
A majority of doctors had not reported to work in the past 24 hours, demanding that the government bring out new legislation for the protection of hospitals with immediate effect.
The functioning of hospitals was largely hit across the state due to the agitation by medical students and doctors.
Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and casualties were exempted from the stir, but the Out Patient (OP) services in the state hospitals were affected.
During the hearing in the High Court, the bench urged the state government and the police to take steps to pacify the protesting doctors so that the patients queuing up outside government hospitals were not put to hardship.
The court said it was concerned that if something happened to a patient as a result of the strike, public sentiment might turn against the doctors.
Amid the statewide agitations and court hearings, Dr Das was given a tearful and emotional goodbye by her parents prior to her cremation today at her home in Muttuchira in Kaduthuruthy.
A huge crowd, including the Speaker of the Kerala Assembly A N Shamseer as well as state and central ministers, turned up to pay their respects at the residence of Dr Das prior to her funeral.
While her father kissed her several times and held on to his daughter for one long last time, her mother had to be carried by several persons to see the body for the last time. Her mother too broke down and had to be carried away by relatives.