Palestine Pulse

Palestinian government drafts law to protect its doctors

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Article Summary
A draft law to protect doctors and medical staff is currently underway in the West Bank, amid increasing physical and verbal attacks on hospital staff.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Ministry of Health and the Doctors Syndicate signed July 22 a bill to protect medical staff working in hospitals and medical centers and to incriminate any attack on its members. The provisions of the bill are currently being drafted.

During the meeting, the Doctors Syndicate suspended all protest acts it had announced July 21, including halting its work in government hospitals, and resumed full provision of medical services to citizens.

On July 21, the Doctors Syndicate suspended work at Thabet Thabet Government Hospital in Tulkarm, after a patient’s relative physically attacked a doctor in the emergency department at the hospital. The doctor suffered bruises to the head, and the hospital decided to suspend all work the next day.

Attacks on doctors, medical staff, nurses and technical staff in hospitals in the West Bank have been on the rise lately. Relatives accompanying patients to hospitals interfere in doctors’ work and refuse to abide by hospital regulations, leading to arguments that often evolve into assaults. 

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However, the signing of the bill has not stopped the attacks. On July 31, a patient’s escort attacked a doctor in the governmental Darwish Nazzal Hospital in Qalqilya, when the doctor refused to let him into the delivery room with the patient.

On June 6, radiology technician Salah Abu Maria was assaulted by a number of people in the governmental Alia Hospital in Hebron, leaving him with injuries of different parts of his body. On May 11, a doctor in the governmental hospital in Jenin was beaten and patients were evacuated. On May 4, a group accompanying a patient attacked a nurse in the emergency department of Alia Hospital in Hebron and vandalized the furniture.

The legal staff at the Ministry of Health is currently drafting the bill's provisions. The director of the Legal Affairs Unit at the ministry, Arwa al-Tamimi, told Al-Monitor, “Work is underway to draft the bill, which will include protecting medical staff and facilities from any attacks.”

Tamimi said there is no specific timeline for the bill to take effect and that it will undergo the usual procedure. It will be submitted to the Cabinet for discussion and approval, then the Cabinet will refer it to President Mahmoud Abbas to issue it as a decree-law.

Doctors Syndicate head Shawki Sobhat told Al-Monitor, “The law incriminating attacks on medical staff should be issued as soon as possible, because attacks have gone off-limits. The law should include deterrent sanctions, otherwise chaos will persist.”

Sobhat said that once the bill is drafted and passed into law, it will punish attacks on medical staff with three years in prison and a fine of at least 5,000 Jordanian dinars ($7,000).

He added, “The syndicate will follow up on drafting the law, and if we sense any slackening or lack of seriousness in passing the law, the medical staff and syndicate will take a stand. We will not stand idle.”

He noted, “Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh reassured us [during the signing of the bill July 22] that he is working on halting attacks on medical staff and that he gave orders to deploy national security officers in some hospitals and centers. This shows that the government is cooperating and has honest intentions to solve this issue.”

According to the official news agency Wafa, Shtayyeh said during his July 21 meeting with Minister of Health Mai al-Kail, “The attacks on governmental hospitals and medical staff are dangerous, and we condemn them. I will instruct the security forces to deploy around hospitals to offer immediate and constant protection from attacks on their staff and facilities. Legal measures will be taken to punish the culprits.”

Regarding the impact of the bill, Sobhat said, “The law might improve medical services offered to citizens indirectly by stopping competent medical staff from leaving, and it will support the syndicate’s strategy to attract Palestinian medics from around the world.”

He said that each month on average five to 10 attacks on doctors take place, including beatings. The syndicate documents and records these attacks, which do not include verbal fights that happen all the time, he added.

Sobhat noted that Palestinian security forces in civilian clothes are responsible for 90% of the attacks and that the prime minister has been told. “This is bad, because the security forces should protect hospitals and medical staff — not attack them. These attacks should be halted and the problem should be solved,” he said.

He added, “Security forces think they are protected and can't be held accountable, so they carry on with their attacks.”

Spokesman for the Ministry of Health Osama Najjar told Al-Monitor, “The bill that is being drafted will include medical staff, not just doctors. It will be completed very soon, because it is a sensitive matter.”

Najjar said that the attacks are draining the ministry and delaying medical services to patients; they are also impeding the medical staff's ability to perform their duties. Najjar added that such a law was not drafted in the past because the Ministry of Health and syndicates were not serious about halting these attacks.

He noted that 1,272 doctors work in government hospitals, in addition to 9,000 employees who are part of the Palestine Federation of Health Profession. The law will apply to all of them.

Found in: protection, law, west bank, security, attack, assault, doctors, hospitals

Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News. He writes for a number of Arabic outlets.

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