To provide emergency help to victims of road accidents during the golden hour period, we need to educate citizens to become ‘Good Samaritans’.
Nearly 1,50,000 people are killed and half a million people are injured every year due to road accidents in India. An estimated 12% of total road accident fatalities of the world occur on Indian roads. Although negligent driving, bad roads and mechanical defects of vehicles are considered as major causes for road accidents, it’s often the lack of adequate post-accidental care that leads to fatalities.
Many a time, people who witness accidents do not extend a helping hand to victims for fear of harassment and inconvenience. Due to this apathy of the citizens, the medical help that is needed during the ‘golden hour’ period – first hour after the accident – to stabilise the condition of the patient does not reach victims. As a result, victims either succumb to the injury or become permanently disabled.
According to a national study, “Impediments to bystander care in India”, conducted by SaveLIFE Foundation and TNS India Pvt Ltd: nearly 74% of bystanders are unlikely to assist victims of road accidents; 88% of those bystanders have the following reasons for their reluctance – legal hassles, repeated police questioning, multiple court appearances; 77% of the respondents cited detention at hospitals and having to pay hospital registration charges and fees as reasons for not helping.
On social media, many road accident clippings are being circulated. Victims plead for help, but no one dares to help. Many people simply record an incident on their mobile phone rather than using it to call or message traffic/police control room or ambulance line 108. They don’t bother to shift the victim to a nearby hospital.
The remedy is to develop a ‘Good Samaritan’ culture in our society. Good Samaritan refers to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are injured or in a traumatic condition or are otherwise incapacitated. The phrase has its origin in the Biblical parable of the same name.
The parable goes as follows: a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by thieves who left him half dead. Two men passed by, but both ignored him and went their way. A Samaritan (person from Samaria) came by, who helped him, dressed his wound and gave him shelter. The phase Good Samaritan is derived from this parable.
To provide emergency help to victims of road accidents during the golden hour period, we need to educate citizens to become ‘Good Samaritans’.
Apart from education, a conducive environment should be created to encourage citizens to extend immediate help during medical emergencies without any hassles. Towards this, the central government has issued guidelines to all stakeholder agencies such as public health, police, etc., for protection of Good Samaritans.
Some of these guidelines are:
1. A bystander or Good Samaritan, including an eye witness to a road accident, may take an injured person to the nearest hospital, and s/he should be allowed to leave immediately. No question shall be asked of the Good Samaritan.
2.S/he shall be suitably rewarded or compensated to encourage other citizens to come forward to help road accident victims in the manner as may be specified by state governments.
3. The Good Samaritan shall not be liable for any civil or criminal liability.
4. A Good Samaritan who makes a phone call to inform the police or emergency service on seeing a person lying injured on the road shall not be compelled to reveal his name and personal details on the phone or in person.
5. The disclosure of personal information, such as name and contact details of the Good Samaritan shall be made voluntary and optional, including in the Medico Legal Case (MLC) form provided by hospitals.
6.In case a Good Samaritan, who has voluntarily stated that he is also an eye witness to the accident, is required to be examined for the purposes of investigation by the police or during the trial, s/he shall be examined on a single occasion and the state government shall develop standard operating procedures to ensure that s/he is not harassed or intimidated.
7.Lack of response by a doctor in an emergency situation pertaining to road accidents, where he is expected to provide care, shall constitute “professional misconduct” under Chapter 7 of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002, and disciplinary action shall be taken against such doctor under chapter 8 of the said regulations.
‘Harish’ scheme
In order to encourage Good Samaritans and to provide immediate trauma care to road accident victims, the Government of Karnataka has also initiated a scheme called Mukhyamanthri Santwana ‘Harish’ Scheme. It is implemented through Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust, an autonomous registered body under Health and Family Welfare department of the state government. This scheme was launched in memory of Harish, who died in a road accident near Nelamangala. Under this scheme, any victim of road accident will get instant medical treatment during the first 48 hours, with a maximum ceiling of Rs 25,000 per victim per accident.
Though the central and state governments have taken effective steps to encourage citizens to come forward and help accident victims, it is still a long journey to inculcate the Good Samaritan culture. Civil society and non-governmental organisations can play an effective role in creating awareness and sensitising people. Government agencies and non-government organisations should join hands to ensure that a suitable environment is created so that every citizen becomes a Good Samaritan. This will go a long way in saving precious human lives.
(The writer of this article is Dr MA Saleem, an Additional Director General of Police and Commissioner for Traffic and Road Safety, Bengaluru)