How police, hospitals cause untimely deaths of gunshot victims

How police, hospitals cause untimely deaths of gunshot victims

By Ngozi Nwoke

While many grooms jubilate on the night of their bachelor’s eve, which is usually filled with happiness, anxiety and anticipation, the case was different for Tunji Ayodele. His fiancée, Beatrice Popoola, who was to be betrothed to him the next day, was gunned down on the eve of their wedding.

Popoola, who until her death was a teacher with Olives College in Lagos, was shot on her way home on the night of November 10, 2012, by armed robbers at Maryland Bus Stop, Lagos. Left seriously wounded and bleeding profusely, she was rushed by a passerby to a nearby hospital but was refused treatment for lack of police report; and like a candle in the wind, her flame was abruptly blown out at sunset.

The shattered groom, who shared his ordeal with Daily Sun, said he was yet to recover from the demise of his wife-to-be.

He said: “I was called with her number by a stranger that she was attacked and shot by robbers that evening. I couldn’t believe it. I called her family members who rushed to the hospital at Gbagada, Lagos, where she was taken. At that point, she was already losing strength due to the excess bleeding.

“We pleaded with the doctors on duty to treat her, but they only asked us to wait at the reception. After 45 minutes gone, no doctor had attended to her. It was when she couldn’t open her eyes that one of the doctors came out to request a police report but by then it was late. I lost her not only because she was shot by robbers but also because the hospital refused to treat her

It has been ceaseless tears and pain for the family and friends of 14-year-old Treasure Williams, whose dreams were cut short by a stray bullet from men of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), while chasing after a suspected criminal.

Williams was died from gunshot wounds she sustained on July 27, 2014, in Abuja while waiting for a bus. She died after several hospitals allegedly refused to treat her without a police report.

The case of Anthony Igwe, a businessman who lived in the Adeniyi Jones area of Ikeja in Lagos, is yet another unfortunate incident. He came back to his residence in the wee hours of the night only to be accosted by four armed men right in his apartment. They shot him several times and fled the scene.

He was rushed to one of the best hospitals in Ikeja only for doctors to insist on police report and N200,000 deposit before treating him. His neighbours who rushed him to the hospital immediately deposited the money, but the doctors stood their ground that a police report must be produced.

Pleas by the victim’s family and neighbours fell on deaf ears as the victim bled excessively and gave up the ghost a few minutes after the driver eventually succeeded in obtaining a police report from Area F, Ikeja, Lagos.

Another sad incident occurred in 2008, when the then chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Sarka Saula, was gunned down in his house. He was left to die in a public hospital after being refused treatment for the same reason.

The murder of Prince Amadi, a 300-level student of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, is another pathetic one. He was shot in the waist during a cult clash while studying for his second semester examination in the university’s library. He was likewise denied medical attention by a government-owned hospital for his helpless mother’s failure to produce a police report.

For Nnamdi Okorie, a businessman, it was a traumatizing experience but he was lucky to survive to tell his sad story. The victim was shot by robbers at Ojota Bus Stop in Lagos, on January 1, 2020, while driving along the expressway.

His friends who were with him in the car rushed him to the nearest hospital in the area, only for doctors to reject him on the grounds that they must produce a police report. But he would remain grateful to his brother, a senior police officer, who stormed the hospital and threatened to sue the doctor, if the patient was allowed to die without treatment.

The police report was eventually provided a few hours later and the victim survived the ordeal.

These are a few heartbreaking incidents out of the many avoidable deaths that have occurred after gunshot wound victims were rejected by medics over failure to produce a police report.

Going by the many deaths reportedly attributed to such refusals by medical facilities, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ademuyiwa Adejobi, in a telephone interview, said that police officers must desist from harassing kind-hearted Nigerians that help convey gunshot victims to medical facilities. He also disclosed that medical practitioners were duty-bound to treat first before taking any other action.

“By the laws of our land, victims of gunshot wounds, victims of road accidents and victims of stabs do not require a police report before being treated by medical practitioners. That is a clear fact.

“The only requirement of the law as it concerns the treatment of gunshot victims is that health workers are only required to inform the police after treatments have commenced. In other words, this requirement does not in any way preclude or bar them from initiating medical treatments. The requirement of police report is only needed after the victim’s life is saved and condition stable,” he said.

The police spokesman stressed that reporting a case of gunshot wounds to the police helps in investigations, adding that there was need for increased awareness and enlightenment campaign to educate all health workers, including the general public, about the position of the law on the issue.

He said: “Citizens must know that it is their fundamental human right to receive treatment from hospitals first before providing the required police report. This has caused lots of untimely deaths over the years and we cannot allow it to continue.”

In 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a bill earlier passed by the National Assembly tagged, “The Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshots Act, 2017.” The Act, which came into effect on the eve of 2018, among other things, made it an offence for hospitals to deny gunshot victims treatment based on the absence of a police report. It also made it obligatory for immediate and adequate treatment to commence with or without monetary deposit.

It, however, mandated that a formal report must be provided within two hours of commencement of treatment and frowned at any inhuman treatment, attempt to degrade or torture gunshot patients by the authorities.

Also, many medical practitioners seem to be unaware that the same 2017 Act is applicable to those that refuse to treat victims for not depositing money. However, some of the practitioners stated that they were aware of the law but pushed the blame to the police.

A medical practitioner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, lamented that he was made to suffer untold consequences, having commenced treating a patient before demanding a police report. He argued that the police also need to be educated on the position of the law.

Other medical practitioners have a version contrary to the efforts of the police to prevent avoidable deaths being recorded in hospitals as a result of refusal by practitioners to treat gunshot victims.

A surgeon with Day Star Clinic Enugu, Mr. Pascal Uchendu, in a telephone interview with the reporter, stated that doctors have always been advocates for the implementation of the 2017 Act.

“The Nigerian Medical Association supports the fact that life is precious and must be seriously handled to avoid losses. No medical practitioner will intentionally refuse to save life, except if their hands are tied, which I believe is due to consequences of treating a gunshot patient without providing a police report.

“The police will ask us to treat gunshot victims first before they produce police report, the same police will arrest a doctor who treats gunshot victims without a police report.

“We have had cases where doctors wilfully treated gunshot victims and reported them to the police after treatment, and they ended up being arrested by the same police. The judiciary will also say the same thing, that gunshot victims should be treated first before providing police report; unfortunately, they won’t be there to defend you when you are arrested by the police.”

The National Health Act, 2014, in Section 20, states partly that: “A healthcare provider, health worker, or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason.”

As punishment, an offender is liable to a fine of N100,000, a jail term of six months or both, upon conviction.

Most concerned Nigerians maintain that the idea of waiting for police reports before treating a dying individual is archaic and inhuman, and is repugnant to the right to life, as enshrined in Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.

In his contribution, Mr. Uzoma Adindu, owner of a private law firm, reiterated that no hospital or doctor had the right to ask for police report before treating anyone, under any circumstances. He also emphasized the need for doctors to report and not demand police report from already distraught family members or kind-hearted individuals that choose to help.

Adindu said: “Every hospital is to receive and treat victims of gunshot wounds with or without police clearance and/or payment of an initial deposit, but are duty-bound to report to the nearest police station within two hours of commencing treatment on the victim.

“No person with a gunshot wound shall be subjected to torture or any inhuman or degrading treatment by any person or authority, including the police or any security agency. This provision reaffirms the constitutional right of every citizen to dignity of human person. Every hospital is to keep an adequate record of the treatment of bullet wound victims.”

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