Doctors are a protected species under the orders of the Andhra Pradesh government. In response to a prolonged agitation at a prominent paediatric care centre in Hyderabad, the state government has approved a law that makes an assault on doctors, nurses or medical students a punishable offence. The legislation also draws hospitals, both government and private, within its protective cover, allowing such establishments to recover double the cost of the damages from the guilty. The act makes infinite sense, given the vulnerability of the medical staff to public ire, which is often directed at this immediate target in the case of an inadvertent death or mishap. Protection from physical harm has been a longstanding demand of doctors, and, as in the case of the ongoing agitation in the Hyderabad hospital, has provided reason for suspension of work in many instances. The heavy penalty the legislation envisages may discourage likely offenders. And considering the sense of security the act will give doctors and the medical establishment, it may even be extended to other states in due course.
However, implementing the act without addressing the causes that lie behind the often-unacceptable behaviour of members of patients families would be akin to treating the symptoms of a disease without finding its cure. In the patient-doctor relationship in India, the first party is severely disadvantaged by the lack of financial resources, information and access to a proper platform or body that can look into their grievances in case of a suspected negligence in treatment. The anger directed against doctors is often a result of this desperation. As the agitating doctors in the Hyderabad hospital have noted, together with providing security, the state administration also has to ensure an improved medical infrastructure to ensure better relations between patients and the medical fraternity.