Extent of Liability of Medical Professionals upon Refusal to Treat Victims of Gunshot Injuries without Police Report

INTRODUCTION.

Over the years, there has been an uncountable record of deaths of victims of gunshots as a result of the failure to produce police report as requested by hospitals and medical practitioners.

It may interest you to know that no law has ever been made prohibiting medical practitioners from treating victims of gunshots without a police report. In other words, there is no official publication or mandate requiring a police report as a certification for treatment of gunshot victims. 

The ill tradition was occasioned by unnecessary intimidation of medical practitioners by police officers during the investigation/interrogation process. There has been an outcry that many innocent doctors have been interrogated, kept in cell for days or had their hospitals shut down by the police for helping gunshot victims.

You may ask, what then is the position of law in ensuring gunshot victims are given immediate medical attention?

LEGAL FRAMEWORK.

In recent times, few laws have been enacted regulating the treatment of gunshot victims and other emergency cases. Before discussing these laws summarily, it is worthy to note that the Hippocratic Oath (Geneva Declaration) 1748 which is an oath every Medical Practitioner takes before Induction into the Medical Profession mandates medical doctors to go the extra mile to save lives. 

The National Health Act 2014, by virtue of Section 20 stated that a health care provider, or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason. By Subsection 2 of same section, a person who contravenes the provision in Subsection 1 commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of Hundred Thousand Naira (N100,000.00) or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both.

More so, The Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017, provides for the compulsory treatment and care for victims of gunshots by hospitals in Nigeria, and further mandates every citizen to take all necessary steps to assist victims, and take them to a hospital as soon as possible.

Some notable provisions of the Act include:

Sections 1 of the Act provides that every hospital is to receive and treat victims of gunshot wounds with or without police clearance and/or payment of an initial deposit. Such hospitals are however duty bound to report to the nearest police station within two hours of commencing treatment on the victim.

In Section 2 of the Act, it was provided that a gunshot victim shall be treated by any hospital in Nigeria with or without monetary deposit. Also, no person with a gunshot wound shall be subjected to torture or any inhuman or degrading treatment by any person or authority including the police or any security agency. 

By the provisions of Section 4 of the Act, the police may only take custody of a gunshot victim upon certification of fitness by the Chief Medical Director of the hospital where he is receiving treatment.

It is the provision of Section 9 of the Act that any person who commits an offence under the Act especially, when the offence does not lead to death of victim but led to substantial physical, mental, emotional and psychological damage, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 years and not less than 5 years without the option of fine.

By Section 11 of the Act, any authority or person, whose omission results in the unnecessary death of a gunshot victim shall be liable to imprisonment for 5 years or a fine in the sum of N 500,000.00 or both.

In addition, under the Robbery and Firearms Act as well as the Police Act, there is no mention of the police report as a requirement for a gunshot victim to be treated in a Nigerian Hospital. 

RECOMMENDATION.

The above provisions are quite commendable, considering the reckless and consistent refusal of hospitals to treat gunshot victims without police report or monetary deposit. However, no matter how extensive and laudable the provisions of the Act are, it must be noted that non-enforcement by authorities shouldered with the responsibility to enforce these laws would hinder the intent of the law makers.

It is therefore recommended that various sensitization programs be organized and carried out by the Governments at all levels through the appropriate information dissemination agencies, such that citizens are informed of their various rights and obligations under the Act. Also, the relevant enforcement agencies like the Nigerian Police Force to be more proactive in ensuring that the provisions of the Act are strictly complied with.

Written by Desmond C. Otikpa Esq.

What do Gunshot Injuries, Medical Professionals and Police Reports have in common?

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