Medics' legal immunity in limbo

Medics' legal immunity in limbo

Anutin insists decree not to protect him

A medical worker is on duty at a field hospital for Covid-19 patients in Nong Chok district, Bangkok. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
A medical worker is on duty at a field hospital for Covid-19 patients in Nong Chok district, Bangkok. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

The future of the Public Health Ministry's attempt to issue an executive decree to provide healthcare professionals looking after Covid-19 patients with immunity from legal liability still hangs in the balance as the government said on Tuesday no conclusion has been reached about the decree so far.

The draft executive decree on limiting liabilities of public health workers handling Covid-19 patients has yet to be finalised as it still is being reviewed by all parties concerned including medical workers and members of the public, said government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri on Tuesday.

He was responding to concerns raised over the possibility of the draft decree being rushed.

"The ministry has not even forwarded the draft to the Council of State (CS), the government's legal arm, yet as the draft still requires more discussions and reviews," he said.

Nopadhol Pereererks, spokesman for the CS, insisted the council has yet to receive any such draft executive decree as speculated by some sides.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday reiterated that the executive decree is intended to protect healthcare professionals, not him as speculated by some critics.

First of all, he said, this draft law is not an amnesty as no one has done anything wrong and once again the law is intended to assure medical doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff who perform their duties honestly that will be backed up. Details of the draft decree, including as to who it will apply to and what exceptions will be allowed, will be known when the draft is complete, he said.

"This draft law is the brainchild of the permanent secretary for public health, which I personally approve and support because it is necessary. And once again, the decree is still being drafted," he said.

The draft decree is now with the director-general of the Department of Health Service Support, while there still are more processes to get done before the decree is actually issued, including a number of public hearings, said Mr Anutin.

"Ultimately, this law will protect only the people with an honest mind. So please don't politicise everything," he said.

Asked why the same decree will also apply to the people involved in the country's procurement of Covid-19 vaccines and if the law is actually intended to ensure legal immunity for any particular parties while claiming it is for healthcare workers, Mr Anutin said he has nothing to do with drugs and vaccine procurements.

The Department of Disease Control (DDC) is responsible for procuring medications for Covid-19 treatment, while the Covid-19 vaccine imports are handled by the DDC, the National Vaccine Institute, the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation and the vaccine makers, he said.

The move to issue this executive decree 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.

Assoc Prof Niramai Phitkhae Manjit, a deputy dean of Thammasat University's Faculty of Law at the university's Lampang campus, meanwhile, argued that there currently are sufficient laws to ensure legal protection for healthcare workers in both state-run and private-run hospitals. They are already protected under, for instance, Section 29(1) of the 2016 Emergency Medicine Act, when working during a crisis or in an emergency setting, she said in a Facebook post.

Panat Tasneeyanond, a former dean of the same university, however, said he totally supports the decree as long as it only applied to frontline healthcare workers and health volunteers.

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