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Indian hospital hires guards to protect staff

11th September 2012

In a desperate attempt to put an end to violence against medical staff, a hospital in India has begun hiring muscle-bound, tattooed security guards more familiar with the night-club than an accident and emergency department.


Managers at the government-run Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital in New Delhi have hired a number of bouncers like Pradeep Kumar, a muscular man in shades and tattoos who rides to work on a motorbike, ready to put a stop to any trouble.

Violence against hospital staff is a common, and increasing, problem in India, especially when large numbers of friends and relatives are allowed to accompany a severely injured or pregnant patient to emergency rooms.

Kumar and colleagues have been brought in to maintain order in the emergency and labour rooms, which often fill up with agitated bystanders who can turn nasty if things don't go the way they had hoped.

A week before he was hired in April, a doctor in the accident and emergency department was punched in the face by people accompanying a trauma patient, before smashing windows and hospital equipment with hockey sticks, and taking further swings at unsuspecting staff. The doctor suffered a broken nose.

Medical staff have staged several strikes in a bid to make management heed their complaints about the level of physical abuse they suffer in the course of their work.

Previous security guards were unfit and apathetic, so they were replaced by former bouncers, bodyguards and wrestlers, whose tough-guy appearance is often enough to keep people in line.

Since they started work, the hospital has not recorded a single violent incident.

According to Narendra Saini, spokesman for the Indian Medical Association, thousands of attacks occur every year in hospitals all around India.

A surgeon was hacked to death by sword in the southern city of Chennai in January, after a pregnant woman under his care died on the operating table. The woman's husband was later charged with the killing.

An unsuccessful attempt at CPR on a female patient in Delhi resulted in accusations of sexual misconduct and violent attacks on six doctors by a mob of bystanders in April.

Saini said that doctors were the first to be blamed and attacked if a patient died in hospital, even in expensive private hospitals where families who have paid large amounts to have their relative treated expect them to stay alive.

The newly recruited team of hospital guards in Dayal cover security around the clock, concentrated their attention on the busiest departments.

According to Kumar, those accompanying pregnant or trauma patients are the most likely to "lose their cool." The hospital now only lets in one accompanying person per patient.

The guards also ensure that a crowd is never allowed to form, by keeping people moving.

According to medical superintendent Promila Gupta, they are polite, but firm with members of the public, and never use force. But their appearance seems to be encouraging people to be on their best behaviour.

However, most of India's overcrowded and understaffed government facilities don't have the budget for such a security team, according to Saini, and often lack the basic medical equipment needed to treat patients.

And Prithvi Madhok, a former surgeon at some of Mumbai’s top hospitals who has studied doctor assaults in India, said the problem lay more with social education in the general public.

Indians as a society, he says, are not trained to be patient, to wait their turn, or to allow certain processes to unfold as they should.



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