A person with a gunshot wound should be given adequate treatment without an initial monetary deposit
Prompt and quality healthcare at a time of urgency can mean the difference between life and death. Section 33 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) guarantees the right to life to every citizen. This also extends to your right to access emergency medical care.
Further, all medical professionals and doctors in both private and government hospitals have a responsibility and duty towards the health of the community.
Section 20 (1) and (2) of the National Health Act provides that “(1) A health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason. (2) A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100, 000.00 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both.”
To strengthen the above legal provision, the National Assembly went ahead and enacted a specific law -The Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017.
The Act mandates all medical facilities to receive and accept victims of a gunshot for immediate treatment without a police report.
The Act makes provisions for various rights and obligations as well as penalties. The rights are in two categories: The rights of a gunshot victim and the rights of a volunteer or helper of a gunshot victim.
The obligations are also in two categories: obligations of hospitals and obligations of the police. The Act also stipulated penalties for violations under the Act. Let us consider these rights, obligations and penalties.
For a Victim of Gunshot injury, the Act states thus: “Any hospital in Nigeria whether public or private shall receive and accept for immediate treatment anyone with a gunshot wound. A person with a gunshot wound should be given adequate treatment without an initial monetary deposit.
A person with a gunshot wound shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority including the police or other security agencies.”
The Act accorded volunteers or helpers of gunshot victims the right to be treated with respect and not to be subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogation, in their genuine attempt to save a life.
It also provides that any hospital that receives a person with gunshot wounds must do the following: “Report to the nearest police station within 2 hours of commencement of treatment. Notify the family members or relations within 24 hours of becoming aware of the victim’s identity.
Keep an adequate record of treatment given to the injured person. Ensure the victim is fit and no longer in need of dire medicare before the Chief Medical Director certifies him fit to be invited by the police for investigation.”
The Act listed the responsibilities of the police as follows: “To render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds and ensure that the person is taken to the nearest hospital for immediate treatment. To commence an investigation to ascertain the circumstances under which the person was shot. To furnish the hospital with background information of the victim.”
Penalties under the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act include that any hospital that fails to make a report, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 and every doctor directly concerned is equally liable on conviction to a term of six months or a fine of N100,000 or both.
“A person who commits an offence under this Act which leads to or causes substantial physical, mental, emotional and psychological damage to the victim, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 years and not less than 5 years without an option of fine.
“Any person or authority including any police officer, or other security agents who stand by and fails to perform his duty under this Act which results in the unnecessary death of any person with gunshot wounds commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both.”
The language of the law is very clear and unambiguous. No initial monetary deposit is required to accept and commence immediate treatment of a victim of a gunshot. A police report is also not required. However, the hospital has a duty to report to the police within two hours of receiving such a person.
It is very clear from the Act that its purpose is to preserve the life of gunshot victims by removing obstacles that prevent quick medical attention to them.
The Act balances the desire of persons injured by a gunshot to receive medical attention as soon as possible with the need to protect hospitals, doctors and even ‘good Samaritans’ who attend to gunshot victims, from molestation and harassment by the police, without hindering the duty of the police to apprehend and prosecute criminals.
If health care is not a right, but rather is deemed a privilege, then doctors are essentially commercial vendors of services. Medical services are rendered a commodity to be sold to those who can pay for the privilege. And as such, there is no duty to ensure that these services are distributed fairly, or at all.
Yet doctors stand in a unique position to demand a system of health care that is fair and equitable and based on fundamental rights. Doctors are in a position to influence others and to say clearly and without hesitation that health care is a right and not a privilege.
By acting to ensure that patients’ rights to health care are preserved especially in emergencies, healthcare professionals and advocates can work for a different and possibly better future –a future where all individuals do have a right to health care and do have a right to emergency medical treatment.
Okeke writes from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Nigeria.