Abused, harassed healthcare workers consider it 'part of their job': report

Health minister slams 'demoralising' situation as 'simply not acceptable'

Abused, harassed healthcare workers consider it 'part of their job': report

Healthcare workers in Singapore are victims of abuse and harassment, but many believe that these are still part of the job, according to a new report.

The report was carried out among 3,000 healthcare workers by the Tripartite Workgroup for the Prevention of Abuse and Harassment of Healthcare Workers, which included representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Healthcare Services Employees' Union, public healthcare clusters, community care partners, and private healthcare providers.

It found that more than two in three healthcare workers witnessed or personally experienced abuse or harassment in the past year, including half of them (or a third of all healthcare workers) seeing or suffering from it at least once a week.

"The most common forms of abuse and harassment are shouting, threats by patients and/or caregivers to file complaints or take legal action against the healthcare workers, and demeaning comments," the findings said.

'Part of their job'

Despite being on the receiving end of such behaviours, however, there is a certain portion of healthcare workers who do not consider such as actions as abuse or harassment.

The report found that 66% of healthcare workers do not consider aggressive behaviour from patients with dementia as abuse or harassment. In other cases:

  • Repetitive demands or complaints (49% do not consider this abuse or harassment)
  • Unsolicited photo/video/audio recording (44%)
  • Sexual requests and remarks (39%)
  • Molest (38%)
  • Threatening to complain/sur (35%)
  • Demeaning comments (34%)
  • Shouting and threats to cause harm (34%)
  • Physical assault, such as slapping (33%)
  • Discriminatory comments (30%)
  • Verbal abuse (23%)

"This suggests that to some extent, healthcare workers have normalised the abuse and harassment that they experience and have rationalised these as being part of their job," the report said.

'Not acceptable'

Commenting on the findings, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung slammed the situation faced by healthcare workers.

"Let me categorically say this – abusive behaviour towards healthcare workers is not acceptable. In a healthcare setting, where our job is to provide care, we have somehow left bad behaviour to be tolerated and uncorrected," Ong said in a speech.

"While many healthcare workers find ways to cope, it is wearying and demoralising to experience this on a regular basis. It is simply not acceptable."

The tripartite workgroup is now pushing for a zero-tolerance policy against abuse and harassment of workers, following the findings.

It recommended the three-pronged framework of "Protect, Prevent, and Promote."

  • Protect healthcare workers who face abuse and harassment
  • Prevent situations that lead to abuse and harassment
  • Promote positive relationships between healthcare workers and patients/caregivers

The framework pushes for a "clear and common definition" of abuse and harassment, a supportive culture of reporting, and clear consequences for violators that are enforced.

"The workgroup also recommends that institutions train their staff to prevent potential abusive situations by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to manage and de-escalate challenging situations and deterring potential offenders through the enforcement of consequences," the workgroup said in a media release.

A national public education campaign to promote positive relationships of trust and respect between healthcare workers, patients, and caregivers will also be launched in the second half of 2023, according to the workgroup.

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