Medics granted legal immunity

Medics granted legal immunity

Opposition says plan meant to protect govt

A nurse receives Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine as a booster shot at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's General Hospital. As of Monday, 700 medics and frontline workers at the hospital had registered for the US-made vaccine. A vial contains six doses, which must be administered within six hours from reconstitution. (Photo: Pornprom Satrabhaya)
A nurse receives Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine as a booster shot at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's General Hospital. As of Monday, 700 medics and frontline workers at the hospital had registered for the US-made vaccine. A vial contains six doses, which must be administered within six hours from reconstitution. (Photo: Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The Public Health Ministry is set to issue an executive decree to provide healthcare professionals looking after Covid-19 patients with immunity from legal liability.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Monday that as the pandemic has sent cases soaring rapidly across Thailand, resources and medical personnel are running short.

"The decree is intended to reassure medical personnel and those involved in handling the Covid-19 situation that they can concentrate fully on their work without having to worry about getting sued.

"They won't be held responsible, as long as they carry out their duty honestly without gross negligence or discrimination," Mr Anutin said.

He went on to say that the decree will also protect those who are tasked with procuring Covid-19 vaccines, as long as they act honestly and make a decision based on empirical evidence.

The ministry will gather feedback from all stakeholders, he said, adding that the draft has yet to be submitted to any agencies.

The move came after public criticism over the government's alleged mishandling over Covid-19 vaccine procurement and several individuals which they believe are involved in the matter.

But Mr Anutin swiftly brushed aside such criticism on Monday.

"The decree will offer reassurance to those carrying out duties related to Covid-19," he said.

"We don't want doctors and nurses to worry about any lawsuits. We want to boost their morale so they can devote their time to looking after patients."

Tares Krassanairawiwong, director-general of the Department of Health Service Support, said that the department has been assigned to draw up the executive decree.

The decree, he said, will cover frontline medics, village health volunteers, those involved in procuring medical equipment, medicines and vaccines, employees of state, private, and field hospitals, as well as ambulance drivers.

"However, the decree will not cover all cases. It will not cover those who act with gross negligence. The decree will not deprive damaged parties of the right to compensation," Dr Tares said.

Itthaporn Kanacharoen, secretary-general to the Medical Council of Thailand, said that doctors and other medical occupational networks have welcomed the ministry's move, calling it a way to support and encourage medics and frontline workers.

He said that as Covid-19 is an emerging disease, treatment guidelines can change based on new information.

"We are happy to have the law to support us because we have been working in a very tough situation and under many limitations," he said.

Senator Jate Siratharanont, chairman of the Senate committee on public health, voiced support for the decree, saying if the draft is approved by the cabinet, it will be presented to parliament during the current session.

As the decree also confers legal immunity to individuals who are tasked with procuring Covid-19 vaccines, it will certainly be targeted for scrutiny by the opposition and trigger a fierce debate in parliament, he noted.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Network of People Protecting the Country, along with the Thai Mai Thon (Thais Won't Tolerate It) group on Monday petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Mr Anutin, and permanent secretary for public health Kiattiphum Wongrajit over their handling of the Covid-19 situation.

Also targeted in the petition were Government Pharmaceutical Organisation director Vitoon Danwiboon, Department of Medical Services director-general Somsak Akkasilp, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, a Move Forward Party MP, posted on Facebook saying the executive decree is mainly intended to protect policymakers who are involved in vaccine procurement.

Thailand logged 149 more Covid-19 fatalities and 19,603 new cases over the previous 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry reported on Monday.

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