Police and treatment of gunshot victims
A recent confirmation by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) that police report is not needed before any government or private hospitals could admit or treat gunshot victims is gratifying but the delay in clarifying this sensitive policy is curious. The spate of insecurity in the country constantly exposes citizens to dangers that could lead to sustaining such injuries unexpectedly.
The penchant of hospitals to refuse treating traumatised gunshot and accident victims until police report is obtained puts the lives of the victims in avoidable danger. Quite often, the victims die while procuring police reports.
In the latest order, the police said every medical facility in the country was free to receive and treat victims of gunshot wounds with or without police clearance, but are duty-bound to report to the nearest police station after commencing treatment of the victim.
The president of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Faduyile, said even though several doctors had been arrested and kept behind bars on account of this, any doctor who rejected a patient in emergency and didn’t stablise his life would henceforth be liable. He said, ‘once you are liable and found guilty, there are sanctions.’
It is sad and pathetic that the Nigerian system does not accord dignity to human life. Human life is treated with levity. There might be no end to the frustration on gunshot and accident victims, without a thorough overhauling of the entire healthcare delivery system in the country.
Before now, people with gunshot wounds were routinely rejected by hospitals because of the tendency of being harassed and incriminated by the police for treating such victims without first obtaining clearance that might not be readily available in emergencies.
For instance, only recently, a young lady reportedly died in Lagos from wounds after being stabbed by armed robbers because a medical facility refused to attend to her without a police report.
The erroneous assumption by the police was that every gunshot victim might have been an armed robber who escaped from fusillade of their bullets. This led to the demand for such clearance.
However, according to the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), the Police would not, in any way, operationally or administratively, come in between medical practice 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 live stabs or any other type of stabbing do not require police report before being treated by medical personnel.
That position is clear,” he stressed.
“The only requirement of the law as regards the treatment of gunshot wounds is that medical doctors, paramedics or other health workers are required to inform the police after treatment has commenced. In other words, this requirement does not, in anyway, preclude or bar them from initiating medical treatment. He reiterated that fundamentally, the core duty of doctors and other professionals in the health sector is to save life.
Mba regretted that it is sheer mischief, ignorance, disinformation or misinformation for anyone to say that you must not get a police report before you are treated as a victim of gunshot wound. The requirement is after the doctors must have saved life and stablised the victim, they are required to report after treatment and not before treatment.
No doubt, reporting a case of gunshot injury to the police helps the law enforcement agents in their investigation. The police would like to know the circumstances under which the person sustained the gunshot injury. It is better obtained while treatment is on-going.
Both the police and the public need to be sensitised. In Rivers State, the print-out of this information is reportedly posted everywhere in hospitals, telling doctors that they can treat gunshot victims before going to make report to the police. This is an exemplary civic education.
Interestingly, families of dead victims can report it to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) if they have enough evidence that they were not well treated by a medical facility. The victim’s relations can also take necessary measure to seek redress.
This newspaper had repeatedly advised that hospitals should not demand police report before treatment of gunshot and accident victims. The police should also not harass or intimidate medical personnel who carried out such treatments. Victim’s life should be saved first. The situation has become so bad that we need a law to protect doctors that obeyed their professional calling to treat injured persons irrespective of the cause. This is the way to go. It is just curious why the police was allowed to get away with this impunity and man’s inhumanity to man for so long.