Jun 26, 2020 14:43 UTC
Jun 27, 2020 at 04:40 UTC
SC Guidelines for protection of Health care workers [ Jerryl Banait v. Union of India ]
Case Citation: 2020 SCC Online SC 357
The world at present is going through challenging times where most of the countries are battling the deadly coronavirus which made its presence known since the end of last years. Millions have already lost their lives to this virus which can be spread through the air. The spread of the virus has escalated like wildfire, forcing the World Health Organisation to declare it as a global public health emergency and a pandemic within a few weeks. Governments across the globe were issued guidelines to safeguard their citizens from the virus and to slow down the transmission of the virus in places where it already claimed many lives.
The occurrence and the spread of the pandemic have definitely become an eye-opener to world leaders by exposing the loopholes and pitfalls of a public health care system. Most of the countries went into a strict lockdown to slow down the spread of the virus. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers have immense pressure on their shoulders as the front-line warriors in the battle against this virus. Hospitals and clinics are overburdened with a rising number of positive cases and health care workers are fighting tooth and nail to combat the pandemic. In this context, a medical professional by the name of Jerryl Banait filed a Writ Petition as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court praying for various directions to be issued in reference to the pandemic. The various guidelines for the protection of health care workers during this pandemic have been issued by the Supreme Court with respect to this writ petition in the month of April which will be discussed in this article.
What did Dr. Banait pray for in the PIL?
Jerryl Banait, a practicing doctor filed a Public Interest Litigations seeking the apex court’s attention to the conditions and challenges faced by the medical professionals in the country in the face of the pandemic. In his writ petition, the petitioner mentions that the World Health Organisation issued guidelines in the month of February for the rational use of protective equipment for COVID-19. Later in the month of March, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines on the “Rational Use of Personal Protective Equipment.” He prays before the Hon’ble court that directions must be issued to the concerned government authorities to follow and implement these guidelines issued by the WHO and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to ensure the availability of appropriate Personal Protective Equipments which included sterile medical/Nitrile gloves, starch apparels, medical masks, goggles, face shield, respirators (i.e. N-95 Respirator Mask or Triple Layer Medical Mask or equivalent), shoe covers, headcovers and coveralls/gowns to all Health Workers including Doctors, Nurses, Ward Boys, other medical and paramedical professionals actively attending to, and treating patients suffering from COVID-19 in India, in Metro cities, Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.
Guidelines issued by the Court
The petition was admitted by the court and the apex court in its order found reason and substance in the guidelines recommended by the petitioner. In its final order by the bench presided by Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhatt called doctors and medial staff “the first line of defence of the country to combat with this pandemic” and it decided that they have to be protected by providing Personal Protective Equipment as recommended by WHO on 27.02.2020. The Bench also remarked that it is the first responsibility of the State to protect its citizens from the pandemic. The court threw light on Clause 5 of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health which contained the guidelines for rational use of Personal Protective Equipments which have been designed to protect the health care workers such as gloves, mask and others. This clause also contained guidelines regarding how the operations in the Out-Patient Departments in hospitals have to be carried out in different designated areas such as the Triage Area, Screening Area, Temperature recording station and others.
The court condemned the incident in Indore on 2nd April 2020 where medical staff including doctors were attacked on their visit to screen certain persons along with other incidents that took place in different parts of the country. The court observed that such incidents instill a sense of insecurity in doctors and medical staff. In addition to this, the court also remarked that the pandemic is a national calamity and all citizens have to act in a responsible manner and help the Government and medical staff to perform their duties to combat this pandemic. The court pointed out that it is the duty of the State and the police administration to provide necessary security at all places where patients diagnosed with coronavirus or who have been quarantined are housed.
In the light of these arguments, the court issued the following directions to be implemented
- The respondents (Union of India and others) are directed to ensure availability of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, including sterile medical/Nitrile gloves, starch apparels, medical masks, goggles, face shield, respirators (i.e. N-95 Respirator Mask or Triple Layer Medical Mask or equivalent), shoe covers, headcovers and coveralls/gowns to all Health Workers including Doctors, Nurses, Ward Boys, other medical and paramedical professionals actively attending to, and treating patients suffering from COVID-19 in India, in Metro cities, Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities as per guidelines dated 24.03.2020 of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- The Government of India, respective States/Union Territories and respective Police authorities are directed to provide the necessary Police security to the Doctors and medical staff in hospitals and places where patients who have been diagnosed COVID-19 or patients suspected of COVID-19 or those quarantined are housed. Necessary Police security is also extended to Doctors and other medical staff who visit places to conduct screening of people to find out symptoms of the disease.
- The State shall also take necessary action against those persons who obstruct and commit any offence in respect to the performance of duties by Doctors, medical staff and 12 other Government Officials deputed to contain COVID-19.
- The Government shall explore all alternatives including enabling and augmenting domestic production of protective clothing and gear to the medical professionals. This includes the exploring of alternative modes of production of such clothing (masks, suits, caps, gloves etc.) and permitting movement of raw materials. Further, the Government may also restrict the export of such materials to augment inventory and domestic stock.
Prachi Bhardwaj, COVID-19| Doctors and healthcare professionals are “warriors”; protect them: SC issues directions, SCC Online Blog (15th June 2020, 05:00 PM) Source Link.