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Doctor stabbed to death in Kerala by man she was treating; sparks protest

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KOLLAM/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, May 10 (PTI): A 23-year-old doctor was stabbed to death on Wednesday at a taluk hospital in Kerala’s Kollam district allegedly by a man, a school teacher under suspension, who was brought there by police after being involved in a fight with his family members.

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According to an officer of Kottarakkara police in the district, while a wound on the leg of the man — identified as Sandeep — was being dressed by doctor Vandana Das, he suddenly got provoked and attacked everyone standing there using a scissor and scalpel.

The incident occurred during the early hours of Wednesday morning and Das succumbed to her injuries a few hours later.

The brunt of the attack was borne by the young doctor while the police personnel who accompanied the man were also injured. The doctor was rushed to a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram but could not be saved.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan condoled the death of the doctor and said the incident was “shocking and extremely painful”. He said a thorough investigation will be conducted in the matter.

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“Assaulting health workers in the line of duty is unacceptable. A thorough investigation will be conducted into the incident. The government will take strong action against attacks on doctors and health workers,” Vijayan said in a statement.

Both the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association (KGMOA) doctors protested across the state against the incident.

The Kerala State Human Rights Commission, based on media reports of the incident, on its own initiated a case and sought a report within seven days from the District Police Chief of Kollam.

The incident kicked off a political row over Health Minister Veena George’s statement before the media that the victim was a house surgeon and therefore, inexperienced and got scared when the attack occurred.

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Criticising her statement, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran questioned what the minister meant by the doctor being inexperienced.

“Does she mean the doctor was inexperienced to counter or defend against an attack by a man addicted to drugs and alcohol? The statement is a joke,” he told reporters.

Condoling the death of the doctor, Sudhakaran said it was sad and unfortunate that something like this happened.

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly and senior Congress leader V D Satheesan said the doctor’s murder has shaken the entire Kerala society.

He contended that it was a dangerous situation that hospitals are not safe places and alleged that the doctor was killed due to “negligence of the police”.

Education Minister V Sivankutty also condoled the death and said it was a shocking incident. He said the government will take all necessary steps under the law including departmental action against the accused, who is a school teacher.

The state government came under fire from the Congress and the BJP with both parties alleging that it has done little to ensure safety of healthcare workers at their workplaces.

Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan, while expressing shock and concern over the tragic incident, contended it was a shame that doctors and healthcare workers were not safe in Kerala.

He alleged that the “apathy and callousness” of the Pinarayi Vijayan government and  its “misgovernance” was tarnishing the image of the state and bringing disrepute to it.

“Shocked to learn about the brutal murder of Dr Vandana Das and attack on hospital staff in Kottarakkara. Atrocious that dreaded criminals are cut loose, endangering the lives of life savers. Deeply concerned about the safety of doctors and healthcare workers in Kerala.

“Shame that doctors and healthcare workers are not safe in Kerala, which is a renowned global destination for medical tourism and has a rich legacy of various streams of medicine and healthcare. The apathy and callousness of @pinarayivijayan and the misgovernance of @CPIMKerala is tarnishing that image and bringing disrepute to the State. It’s a disgrace that @pinarayivijayan government can’t keep our doctors safe,” he tweeted.

Speaking along similar lines, Satheesan alleged it was deplorable that the state government has done little to ensure safety of healthcare workers.

He said there were widespread problems in the health department and in each case only inquiries were announced and beyond that nothing else happened.

The Congress leader attacked George too by saying that the minister had ordered the “most number of investigations in the state’s history”.

Meanwhile, KGMOA protested against the doctor’s killing. In a statement issued by its president Dr T N Suresh, the union of government medical professionals said all services except emergency treatment will be suspended today in Kollam district.

It sought exemplary punishment for those responsible for the incident and demanded that stringent measures be put in place to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

KGMOA also urged the government to strengthen security in hospitals, ensure due precautions are taken when bringing accused in custody for medical examination and urgently implement a triage system.

Medical professionals came out on the streets in Kottarakkara in protest against the incident. Similar protests were seen at some other hospitals in the state as well.

Giving details of what transpired in the hospital, an officer of Kottarakkara police station said the man had called the emergency helpline to save him from his family members following a fight with them.

When police arrived at the scene, they found him injured and took him to the taluk hospital for medical examination and treatment.

“He had consumed alcohol and was violent when we took him to the hospital. He was alone with the doctor as we are not allowed into the room when a patient’s wound is being dressed.

“Suddenly, there was a commotion and the doctor ran out screaming for help followed by the man who was carrying a scissor and a scalpel and was shouting ‘I will kill you’,” the officer said and added it was not yet known why he got so violent and targeted the doctor.

When the officers at the scene tried to stop him, he attacked them too. Besides the doctor, four others were injured by the man who also vandalised some areas of the hospital, the officer said.

“He was later subdued with much difficulty and taken into custody,” the officer said. While after the attack, a case under Section 307 of Indian Penal Code for attempted murder was lodged, the officer stated that in view of the doctor’s death, murder charges are likely to be imposed on the accused.

Reacting to the incident, an IMA official said it was an unfortunate and sad incident and doctors across Kerala will be protesting against the same.

“Such incidents should not happen. We (doctors) cannot continue working in such circumstances. It is unacceptable that our lives are in danger when we are trying to save lives. We had in the past too indicated our objections to such attacks on medical professionals. We are angry and sad over the incident,” he said.

The IMA official said the doctor was a house surgeon at Azeezia Medical College Hospital and was at the taluk hospital as part of her training.

Several attempts were made to resuscitate her, but her life could not be saved, the IMA official said.

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