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Doctors on edge over attacks by patients’ relatives

Attacks on medical doctors and other healthcare service providers by relatives of patients who die in hospitals have become prevalent. Cases in Kwara, Ogun and…

Attacks on medical doctors and other healthcare service providers by relatives of patients who die in hospitals have become prevalent. Cases in Kwara, Ogun and the recent incident that claimed the life of a doctor in Delta State have become a source of concern for the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

Even though stories of many medical doctors found wanting in the discharge of their duties which led to tragedies such as death or permanent incapacitation of patients are not new, recent happenings have also put the doctors on edge as families who suspect foul play react violently.

As such, management of hospitals are considering stationing armed security operatives as part of efforts to safeguard the lives of healthcare providers, specifically doctors, who face increasing attacks by relatives of patients.

Coming amid increased shortage of doctors due to brain drain, the attacks have worsened the plight of doctors in various hospitals who say they are overwhelmed by workload amid poor remuneration, as well as poor or inadequate facilities. 

Daily Trust Saturday reports that instances of assault on doctors took a new dimension when the NMA recently confirmed the killing of its member, Dr Uyi Iluobe, by relatives of his patient at a hospital in Oghara, Delta State, on New Year’s Eve. Dr Iluobe was shot dead allegedly by the relatives of a patient who died of a gunshot wound in the hospital, even though the Delta State Police Command dismissed the allegation. The command’s spokesman, Bright Edafe, said the crime was committed by cultists, a conclusion the NMA in Delta State described as “worrisome”, especially since it accused the police of failure to interview the nurses who witnessed the incident.

However, the incident in Delta has forced hospital management to consider more stringent security measures to protect health workers, with the NMA in Kwara State suggesting the deployment of armed security men at hospitals. The state has witnessed several attacks on doctors by relatives of patients who die in hospitals, with the latest incident forcing doctors to commence a five-day strike to protest the attacks.

The death of a blood cancer patient, Alhaji Saliu Elekuro, at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) had led to an assault on a doctor by the deceased’s son who accused him of nonchalance to his father’s condition. UITH’s management subsequently denied access to the corpse in protest and arrested the son.

Daily Trust Saturday reports that the corpse was released a day later after the intervention of influential Kwarans from the traditional institution.  

The President of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) in UITH, Dr Mubaraq Ijaiya, therefore, called for armed security personnel at all emergency points within the hospital for the safety of their lives.

He also suggested the provision of posters and banners in the hospital to discourage any form of assault on health workers.

Speaking on the incident, the Head, Corporate Affairs Unit of UITH, Mrs Elizabeth Ajiboye, said the patient in question was presented late with severe complications, adding that health workers on duty swung into action but that the patient had started convulsing.

She said, “He was then stabilised, prompting the doctors to take over another case requiring emergency attention.”

She explained that when the patient later died, three of his relatives pounced on one of the doctors and pinned him to the wall while punching him severally before he escaped.

She noted that there had been similar instances that led to serious injuries to healthcare givers, adding that the hospital’s management would no longer tolerate any of such harassment and assault.

In Ogun State, two cases of assault on medical workers at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, were recorded in December 2022. In one of the cases, one Ayodele Falomo (56) and his son, Ayoola Falomo (23) assaulted a female doctor, Pelumi Somorin, and a nurse following the death of his 53-year-old wife at the emergency ward of the hospital.

It was learnt that father and son descended on the medical workers when they were informed that the 53-year-old woman was dead.

Following the attack, father and son were arrested and arraigned the following day before an Abeokuta magistrates’ court on a two-count charge of conspiracy and assault. The defendants pleaded not guilty and were granted bail till February 16, 2023.

But just before the dust settled on the incident, a female patient’s relative attacked a medical worker after she died at the same hospital.

When contacted, the spokesman of the FMC, Segun Orisajo, told Daily Trust Saturday that the management had put in additional measures to forestall attacks on its medical workers.

He said the management had resolved to involve security agents in the arrest of any relative caught in the act.

NMA links attacks to brain drain

The Kwara State Chairman of NMA, Dr Ola Ahmed, said the association recorded physical and verbal attacks on its members on a weekly basis, stressing that there had been several engagements and letters written to the hospital’s board and the state government without any “remarkable improvement.”

Ahmed said the attacks were causing psychological trauma to his members.

He said, “Posting security operatives to hospitals is not ideal because people should be free to enter the hospital. But if our lives are in danger, then we will have no choice because we don’t know when somebody will bring a knife or gun to stab or shoot a doctor.”

On the reason for the attacks, Ahmed linked it to brain drain occasioned by poor remuneration and condition of service amid inadequate infrastructure for doctors to perform their duties.

He said, “Many of our colleagues have left their states and the country, and many more are leaving. The few of us left are struggling to cope with the difficult working environment and ever-increasing patient load while taking care of our families.”

Ahmed, who appealed for understanding, advised people to channel their grievances to appropriate quarters irrespective of the challenges or dissatisfaction in the course of receiving care in hospitals.

On his part, the Kwara State Commissioner for Health, Dr Raji Rasaki, said the issue had become worrisome, noting that, “People always expect miracles.”

While disclosing that the state government was working on improving communication between health workers and patients, he said, “Brain drain is a global problem occasioned by the dearth of doctors abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a critical moment, but it will get to saturation point.

“Meanwhile, we need to improve the condition of service, retaining medical workers and employment of more hands to cushion the overwhelming effects of those that have left, among other motivations and salary increment.”

However, the Ogun State Chairman of NMA, Dr Kunle Ashimi, warned Nigerians to desist from assaulting healthcare givers, vowing that anyone found guilty would be brought to book.

He said, “We want to make an appeal and a warning to all those who use hospital services in Ogun State; that the NMA, as well as its affiliates and each individual doctor, will not henceforth accept this. We will go to any length to prosecute such persons, and we will not accept the pleading of anybody no matter how highly placed the person is.”

Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Peter Moses (Abeokuta) and Meluwa Kelvin (Asaba)

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