More abusing medical staff, say two hospitals
The woman infected with hepatitis B lost her temper at the doctor.
What she did next underscores the rising incidences of abuse which patients heap on doctors and nurses here.
She pulled out the needle that had been inserted into her arm and threw it at the doctor.
"It was fortunate that the needle did not pierce the doctor, as this could have resulted in her contracting hepatitis B," said Dr Jason Phua of the respiratory and critical care medicine division at the National University Hospital (NUH).
Abuse cases like this came under the spotlight last Monday when Abdul Aziz Selamat was fined $1,500 for splashing a jug of hot milk at a doctor.
Both NUH and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) say the number of abusive patients are rising.
KTPH said there has been a 50 per cent rise.
While NUH did not provide figures, Associate Professor Peter Manning, vice-chairman of its medical board (clinical risk management), described it as an everyday occurrence.
He said people should stop abusing doctors and nurses, who are trying their best to treat the disease or alleviate the pain.
Prof Manning said he has had to step in several times to stop staff members from being harassed.
"The most distressing one for me was one in the accident and emergency (A&E) department.
"A large, heavily-built man was bullying a petite female staff nurse, who was almost in tears.
"I felt the need to step in between them then."
Prof Manning, who is also an emeritus consultant in emergency medicine, stared at the bully until he backed down.
There is no single explanation for the higher level of discord, but long waits to see a doctor and a shortage of hospital beds are cited as reasons.
VERBAL AND PHYSICAL
But Prof Manning said verbal and physical abuse are risks faced every day by doctors and nurses.
Most of the time, nurses bear the brunt of the abuse, whether it is from the patients or their relatives.
NUH assistant director of nursing Normalis Alwi cited the example of a patient's caregiver who used a pen to point at the nurses' foreheads, called them names, took photos and videos to threaten them and even grabbed the staff members' name tags.
"He spoke rudely and aggressively and this made everyone around him tense," she said.
The situation is no different at KTPH, another major hospital that serves large numbers of patients.
Staff nurse Leogan Rajh Marimuthu described how he had to intervene when an elderly man, trying to climb out of his bed in the A&E waiting area, was arguing with a nurse.
Mr Leogan walked over to help and, without any warning, the patient slapped him on both cheeks.
"I was shocked. This was the first time I had been slapped, and I was upset for about two days," he said.
Yet, many health-care personnel are loath to take further action against their abusers, saying the patients are sick and often confused by the pain or their condition.
Prof Manning, who has no qualms about taking bullies to task, said: "Unfortunately, this encourages the bullies to do it again and again."
He hoped with the Protection from Harassment Act passed last year, doctors and nurses will be better protected from abuse and related anti-social behaviour and for the hospitals "to be more willing to press charges to send the message that medical workers are not to be abused".
The Act provides both civil and criminal recourse for victims of harassment, alarm or distress, fear, provocation and stalking.
Those found guilty face a fine of up to $5,000, jail of up to a year, or both. Repeat offenders face a fine of up to $10,000, jail of up to two years, or both.
It was interesting and useful as I could apply it in my work. Without the self-defence course, I would not have known how to react to such (abusive) situations.
- Staff nurse Samantha Yap
The most distressing one for me was one in the accident and emegency (A&E) department. A large, heavily-built man was bullying a petite female staff nurse, who was almost in tears.
- Associate Professor Peter Manning, vice-chairman of the medical board (clinical risk management) of NUH
It was fortunate that the needle did not pierce the doctor, as this could have resulted in her contracting hepatitis B.
- Dr Jason Phua of the respiratory and critical care medicine division at the National University Hospital
Self-defence course for health-care staff
A woman patient was struggling to get out her bed.
Agitated, she kicked staff nurse Samantha Yap and three of her colleagues.
About six to seven hospital staff were needed to restrain the patient.
To prevent injury to both herself and the patient, Ms Yap, who has been working at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) for three years, managed to apply a self-defence technique she had learnt.
Last year, there were 33 cases of front-line staff at the hospital who had been physically abused, a 50 per cent increase from the 22 cases in 2013.
With the number of such cases on the rise, it is no wonder KTPH is teaching its health-care staff self-defence.
A hospital spokesman said: "Our health-care workers come to work every day with the mission to care for patients as if they are their own loved ones. Care and understanding must be mutual.
"The better we treat our health-care workers, the happier they would be in their work and in delivering quality care to our patients."
Started in July 2013, the full-day workshop, called Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting, aims to equip staff with self-defence and disarming skills. This will educate and empower them to recognise, take the appropriate action and use simple communication techniques to protect themselves during a conflict with patients or their loved ones.
The workshop is not compulsory, but staff members picked by their immediate supervisors are encouraged to go.
Ms Yap is glad her manager sent her for it.
She said: "It was interesting and useful as I could apply it in my work. Without the self-defence course, I would not have known how to react to such (abusive) situations."
FINED FOR THROWING HOT MILK AT DOCTOR
PHOTO: ST FILE
Upset that his doctor had written that he was prone to tantrums, Abdul Aziz Selamat (above) splashed a jug of hot milk at her.
The 63-year-old homeless man was fined the maximum $1,500 last Monday. He could have been jailed for up to three months on top of the fine.
The attack happened on Sept 3 last year at Thye Hwa Kwan Hospital, where Aziz was referred to for rehabilitation following surgery.
Dr Parvathy Babu Surendra Babu, 31, had written in her summary form that Aziz threw tantrums almost daily and created trouble for hospital staff.
Afraid that the adverse comments would affect his applications for a Housing Board flat and financial assistance, he asked her to delete them, but she refused, sparking his anger.
He then told her he would "show what a tantrum was" and grabbed the jug from a nearby pantry.
Dr Parvathy suffered redness on her face and chest.