Violence Against Healthcare Workers in India
Updated: Oct 11
On April 19th 2021, a mob in the city of Chennai attacked an ambulance carrying the body of a neurosurgeon who had died after contracting COVID-19. India’s largest body of doctors, the
Indian Medical Association responded to this attack - “If dignity is denied even in death, our
patience and restraint lose their value”. (1)
Violence against healthcare personnel has been a longstanding problem in Indian society, as it is reported that over 60% of physicians fear that they are unable to see patients without the threat of violence (2). During the pandemic era, such violence has only heightened. There were 611 reported incidents of violence against healthcare workers between February and July of 2021. Of these, nearly one in five acts were physically violent (3), most of which were committed by close contacts or family members of patients. In an age of increased anxiety over the health of loved ones, it seems as though these concerns are being manifested in more frequent abusive behavior towards healthcare practitioners.
The causes of violence against Indian healthcare workers are several-fold. One of the most
prominent causes is the negative portrayal of physicians in Indian media, largely driven by
politicians. Indian media has a long history of demonizing physicians. To capitalize on this
sentiment, there have been several instances of local politicians marching into hospitals and
verbally abusing physicians to garner attention and gain appraisal (4). Furthermore, the role of physicians has slowly shifted from primarily charitable to primarily lucrative in nature over time, creating widespread distrust in the sense of compassion inherent to the job of a physician (5).
This distrust, in combination with generally low awareness of health-related issues and,
hence, unusually high expectations of the job of physicians, among many low- and middle-
income Indians is a major driving force of acts of verbal and physical abuse (6).
Medical education has also become an area of concern in the discussion of violence against
healthcare workers. Many have critiqued the medical education system for failing to
adequately train physicians in possessing patience and empathy, instead of focusing too heavily on concrete medical knowledge. This lack of expertise creates a divide in the patient-provider relationship that can leave patients and their loved ones frustrated, confused, and more likely to engage in aggressive behavior (7).
The current situation leaves much to be improved to help keep physicians safe as they care for patients. A simple way to combat this issue is by strengthening security presence at hospitals. Many Indian hospitals presently lack security personnel entirely or have relatively lax security standards. Hence, an increased presence of uniformed officers on hospital grounds could go a long way in protecting physicians. Regarding the patient-provider relationship, physicians must be sure to set realistic expectations about what they can do for a patient before any procedure takes place, so as to combat any misconceptions or unrealistic demands from the patient or their loved ones. Finally, further legislative action should be undertaken to protect healthcare workers, especially in the age of a global pandemic. India recently elevated violence against healthcare personnel to the status of ‘Non-bailable Offence’, which serves to severely punish those who commit such violent acts (8). Similar legislation must continue to be discussed and passed to maintain the safety of healthcare workers.