SINGAPORE: Almost one in three healthcare workers witnessed or experienced abuse at least once a week, according to findings from a tripartite workgroup set up in March last year to look into the issue.
Sharing the findings during her ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on Friday (Mar 3), Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam said “decisive steps” needed to be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of Singapore’s healthcare workers.
This includes enhancing protection by improving and standardising how public healthcare institutions deal with abuse and harassment, she said.
“We need to have a clear and common definition of abuse across healthcare workers and members of the public,” said Ms Rahayu.
“It also means taking steps to prevent potentially abusive situations, as well as promoting trust and respect between patients, caregivers, and healthcare workers.”
In a written parliamentary response last year, Mr Ong said the number of abuse and harassment cases reported within public healthcare institutions had increased since 2018.
Cases rose from about 1,080 in 2018, to 1,200 in 2019, and 1,300 in 2020, he said.
As of end-November 2021, there were about 1,400 abuse and harassment cases reported.
Over the same period, the number of cases of abuse or harassment of public healthcare workers while on duty that were reported to the police rose from 40 in 2018 to 68 in 2021.
Last year, a 40-year-old man was sentenced to seven weeks’ jail for punching a stranger on the street and kicking a nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital while drunk.
He had knocked out a 57-year-old stranger with a single punch and kicked the nurse while she was giving him medical attention.
The nurse was diagnosed with a contusion in her chest and given three days of medical leave.
In another case, a couple was fined last year for harassing their neighbours, one of whom was then a nurse at Sengkang General Hospital, by shouting “COVID spreader” and spraying disinfectant.
Under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), all individuals are protected from harassment.
Offences against public sector healthcare workers in the course of their duties are dealt with more severely, with fines of up to S$5,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months or both.
TAKING A FIRMER STANCE
During his speech, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung noted that while a great majority of people respect healthcare workers, a “small minority” have abused or harassed them.
“This is not acceptable, and we will need to take a firmer stand against this … We need to then empower hospitals to take a firmer stand against such abuse,” he said.
“When hospitals take such firmer stand against abuse, hospitals must feel confident that their management, the Ministry of Health, the minister, and hopefully this House and the public, will stand behind them in protecting our healthcare workers against abuse.”
More details of the workgroup’s engagement findings and a progress update on MOH’s plans will be announced later this month, Mr Ong said.