Thankless job: Medical workers face abuse, infection threats

By Le Nga   November 1, 2019 | 08:16 pm PT
Thankless job: Medical workers face abuse, infection threats
Doctors and nurses work on an emergency case at Bach Mai Hospital, Hanoi, August 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Physical abuse and infection are among the major problems medical personnel have to face, insiders said at a conference in Hanoi this week.

The healthcare sector accounts for a quarter of all physical assaults at the workplace, Nguyen Trong Khoa, deputy head of the Ministry of Health’s medical examination and treatment management department, said.

The number of assaults at hospitals is rising, he added.

Around 20 cases have been recorded so far this year, most of them at province-level hospitals, and the victims of attack by patients’ family members have been four doctors, 15 nurses and a security guard.

Between 2010 and 2017 there were 26 major cases in which doctors suffered severe injuries or were even killed.

Camera footage shows a man beating a doctor at Saint Paul Hospital while seeking a check-up for his son in  2018.

Camera footage shows a man beating a doctor at Saint Paul Hospital in Hanoi while seeking a check-up for his son on April 13, 2018.

In 2012 the brother of a patient stabbed Dr Tran Van Giau, 60, to death at a public general hospital in the northern province of Thai Binh after the patient died during emergency treatment. Another doctor was severely injured.

Recently security guard Tran Phuoc Hung, 57, at the medical center at Que Son District in the central province of Quang Nam was stabbed to death as he tried to stop a man from assaulting his wife.

The couple was taking care of a child at the medical center, and the man was beating his wife when Hung intervened and tried to stop him.

Khoa said of the assault cases since 2010, 60 percent were at province-level hospitals and 20 percent at central hospitals. Of the victims, 70 percent were doctors and 15 percent were nurses.

Ninety percent of the cases occurred when doctors were providing emergency or other treatment, 60 percent of them when they tried to explain the situation to patients' families.

Vietnamese laws are not stringent enough to protect doctors whereas in many other countries a person could be arrested merely for speaking aggressively to medical staff, Khoa said.

Besides physical abuse, medical employees also have to suffer insults and emotional abuse and the law clearly has no sanctions against that, he added.

Pham Thanh Binh, chairman of the Vietnam National Union of Health Workers, said the workplace for medical staff in Vietnam is among the most stressful in the world due to the overload, severe lack of infrastructure and the risk of contracting infections.

"The chemicals, the heat, the noise, radiation, ultrasound, psychological stress, high risk of violence ... the list goes on."

What is more concerning is that radiation could cause genetic mutation, interfere with metabolism and retard cell division, which are the causes of blood, skin, bone, and thyroid cancers, she explained.

Statistics from the union at several provincial healthcare units and some under the Ministry of Health show nearly 2,000 medical staff have suffered from cancers or other types of life-threatening diseases.

Doan Ngoc Hai, head of the National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, said that medical personnel can easily contract diseases caused by viruses and bacteria such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, and TB. They are prone to radioactive contamination, constant loud noises that can cause deafness, and chemical exposure that can cause occupational asthma.

Binh said regulations related to occupational diseases have not been amended for 23 years while medical personnel do not get any compensation for undertaking risky work.

Overloading has been a recurring problem for years at hospitals, especially in big cities.

The sight of two or even three patients sharing a bed or lying in hallways is not uncommon.

During a visit by Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien to major hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City last year, it was found that the University Medical Center HCMC received 8,000-8,500 patients per day, or more than twice its designed capacity while the number of inpatients was 80 percent more than its capacity of 1,000 beds.

Cho Ray Hospital, another major general hospital not only in the city but in the south, faced the same problem, receiving 5,500 patients a day and admitting 2,700.

In the first half of last year it had to send 7,000 patients to province-level hospitals to ease its load.

go to top