Before now, people with such wounds were routinely rejected by hospitals because of the tendency of being harassed and incriminated by the Police, especially the rank and file, for treating such victims without first obtaining clearance.
Only recently, a young lady allegedly died in Lagos from her wound after being stabbed by armed robbers because a medical facility refused to attend to her without a Police report, although the hospital later denied refusing to treat her for any such reason.
The erroneous assumption by the Police was that every gunshot victim might have been an armed robber who escaped from the fusillade of their bullets. This initially led to the demand for such clearance.
But speaking in an interview with The Guardian yesterday in Abuja, Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Mr. Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), assured that the Police would not in any way operationally or administratively come in-between medical practitioners and the discharge of their fundamental responsibility.
He said: “By the laws of our land, victims of gunshot wounds, victims of road accidents, victims of life stabs or any other type of stabbing do not require a Police report before being treated by medical personnel. That position is very clear.
“The only requirement of the law as regards the treatments of gunshot wounds is that medical doctors, paramedics or other health workers are required to inform the Police after treatments have commenced. In other words, this requirement does not in any way preclude or bar them from initiating medical treatments.
According to Mba: “It is sheer mischief, ignorance, disinformation or misinformation for anyone to say that you must get a Police report before you are treated as a victim of a gunshot wound. The requirement is after the doctors must have saved life and stabilised the victim, they are required to report after treatment and not before treatment.
“That requirement is intended to avoid a scenario where a suspected armed robber, cultist, kidnapper or even a terrorist, after sustaining a gunshot wound during an engagement with the Police or other law enforcement officers, gets treated and probably continues in his criminal activities.”
The Police spokesman stated that reporting a case of gunshot injury to the Police helps the law enforcement agents in their investigations, adding: “The requirement says once you have stabilised the victim or as the treatment is ongoing, contact the Police.
“That gives the Police an opportunity to send some undercover operatives to the hospital to check the circumstances under which the person sustained the gunshot injury.”
He stressed the need for increased awareness and enlightenment campaign so that those concerned would be aware of the position of the law on the issue, noting: “We must continue to speak on this, we must continue to push out this correct narrative, so that citizens will know and insist on their right when they suffer from gunshot wound and also medical practitioners, particularly younger entrants into the profession, will understand clearly that they are not under any statutory obligation to demand for Police report before they commence treatment of such victims.”
On his part, Faduyile, while saying it is not correct that doctors still reject patients with gunshot injuries without Police report, added: “We have directives to doctors to treat such patients.
“Unless you have hospitals that are not very buoyant, because at times, the patients may not have money to pay for the treatment, but we need to identify such hospitals and sensitise them. In fact, in Rivers State, they have a print-out pasted everywhere in hospitals, telling doctors that if they have a gunshot victim, they can treat the victim before going to make a report within three hours.
“However, the major problem is that when doctors treat patients with gunshot injuries, the rank and file harass them and keep them behind bars. I cannot begin to point out a particular case. I work in Lagos, but I know that several doctors have been arrested and kept behind bars, sometimes due to mundane things that are within the purview of medical management
“But any doctor who rejects a patient in an emergency and did not stabilise his/her life is liable because the oath we took is to, first of all, save a life. Once you are liable and you are found guilty, there are sanctions.”
Asked if families of dead victims of gunshot injuries denied treatment could seek legal redress, the NMA chief said: “Yes! If they have enough evidence that they were not well treated, they can report it at the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), because a gunshot injured patient can be anybody, it can be me, it does not mean that because I am doctor, I am immune.
“If a doctor misbehaves in that respect, the victim’s relations can make complaints and take the necessary process of seeking redress.”
“You see a patient, he/she has a gunshot wound, sometimes there is no deposit and you expend all you have. It may take about three hours to stabilise the patient, if you are the only person in the hospital, you may not be able to leave and once it is three hours before you go and report, they start harassing you.”
“So, the law should have a human face, that if you have treated a gunshot wound, you can actually write a note to anybody to the nearest Police station where the Police will find time to come to the hospital, look at the patient and take necessary information about the patient.
“But by the time you say a doctor should leave his clinic and go and report at the Police station, then you start hearing that the IPO (Investigating Police Officer) is not there or they start asking why did you do this, why did you touch this and all sorts of things, delaying you, while the next patient is waiting for you, for private practitioners, this is their only source of livelihood and for them to start leaving their hospitals, it may be difficult.
“These are some of the things militating against many doctors getting involved in complicated cases like that.”
On the way out, he stated: “To make a human face of the law, a message sent to the nearest Police station for an officer to come and take an inventory of the situation is enough. They should be able to carry out an investigation and not put any pressure or liability on the doctor.
“So, the law should have a human face. Doctors are not to be blamed, some of the times, the system creates confusion. Sometimes it can be cumbersome in the Police station, anything can happen there.”