KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 – Housemen working at Sungai Buloh Hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department have accused medical officers of bullying them daily, including sexual harassment, public humiliation, and excessive working hours.
In a letter to CodeBlue last Wednesday, a complainant identifying as a representative of UD41 house officers in the public hospital’s OB-GYN department detailed allegations of everyday mistreatment against “all” housemen at the department by senior doctors.
The alleged workplace bullying by medical officers towards trainee doctors included making sexual comments towards female house officers; using misogynistic slurs; publicly humiliating housemen; denying them annual leave and meal and rest breaks; and imposing unreasonable work schedules.
“We are being verbally bullied, with harsh and vulgar words used when scolding housemen,” said the complainant. “For example, words like ‘bodoh’ (stupid), ‘anjing’ (dog), and also ‘b*tch’ are frequently used.”
The complainant accused medical officers of making sexual comments towards female house officers in the O&G department at Sungai Buloh Hospital – a Ministry of Health (MOH) secondary and tertiary hospital in Selangor – driving at least one to face “mental pressures”.
“We have also been shouted at and cursed at in front of patients and, in some cases, even asked to leave in front of them,” the complainant wrote to CodeBlue.
“The name of a particular houseman was shamed and humiliated in a WhatsApp group that includes medical officers working in the department.”
Annual Leave Denied, Unofficial ‘Irrational’ Work Schedules, No Meal and Rest Breaks
The complainant claimed that house officers were not allowed to take annual leave throughout their service in the OB-GYN department at Sungai Buloh Hospital under the premise that there were insufficient trainee doctors.
“We are also instructed to come to work on our days off with the excuse of having to do pre-op assessment,” the complainant said. “So when do housemen get to rest?”
The allegations of mistreatment also involved the imposition of “irrational” work schedules for housemen at the O&G department without prior notice to the department head.
The complainant cited an example of being scheduled to work for 14 hours from 6pm to 8am the next day, only to be asked to return to work after completing ward rounds at noon.
“There is no black and white notification of this matter regarding the change in working hours.”
Additionally, house officers at the government hospital’s OB-GYN department are allegedly denied breaks for eating and resting, compelled instead to “work continuously”.
Threatened with Housemanship Extension, Poorer Assessment if Complaints Filed
The complainant alleged that all of these workplace bullying actions were perpetrated by several medical officers working in Sungai Buloh Hospital’s O&G department, known as “kaki buli houseman” (housemen bullies).
“These actions are unknown to the head of department and also to the specialists serving in this department.”
The complainant named seven accused bullies who are all medical officers, whose names CodeBlue is withholding.
“We house officers frequently experience the incidents I mentioned, but we are unable to report this to anyone because we have been threatened with extensions and lower marks if we were to file a complaint to the hospital administration,” the complainant said.
“I would like assistance from upper management to take immediate action and to get an explanation from the doctors who perpetrated bullying, and also for the department head to act immediately against bullying practices that have now become a tradition in this department.”
Minister Orders Immediate Investigation
Prior to publication of this story, CodeBlue shared a copy of the complaint – omitting the name of the complainant to protect their identity, but including the names of the accused bullies – with Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa and Sungai Buloh Hospital’s top management.
Dr Zaliha, in a brief statement to CodeBlue on Saturday, said that MOH has received the complaint and ordered an immediate investigation.
“We always take such issues seriously and will not compromise on any form of bullying or harassment among health care workers. A conducive and safe working environment is our priority in the MOH,” Dr Zaliha said.
Despite acknowledging CodeBlue’s request for comment, top management at Sungai Buloh Hospital did not respond to inquiries regarding the allegations.
This is not the first time Sungai Buloh Hospital has been hit with sexual harassment allegations.
In 2018, an orthopaedic head of department in Sungai Buloh Hospital was terminated from public service, after the completion of an inquiry by a special investigation committee into female house officers’ sexual harassment allegations against him.
Efficacy Of Internal MOH Helplines?
The complaint by the self-identified representative of housemen at Sungai Buloh Hospital’s O&G department to the media puts into question the effectiveness of internal MOH complaints channels to tackle workplace bullying, primarily among junior doctors.
Then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin launched a new online complaints mechanism in MOH last October called MyHelp to enable doctors and other staff to file reports against workplace bullying.
Last month, radio station BFM quoted Dr Helmy Haja Mydin, special adviser to Dr Zaliha, as saying that, subsequent to the minister’s town hall meeting with doctors, MOH has decided to set up a complaints channel in collaboration with the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).
Dr Helmy then clarified in a tweet that this was “not a new channel per se”, as there is an existing portal by MOH and a newer one by MMA: “The new idea is that these two will work together e.g. what’s picked up by MMA is shared with KKM (Ministry of Health) for further action & vice versa.”
CodeBlue Poll: Four in 10 Housemen Suffer Bullying, 6% Sexual Harassment
A CodeBlue poll conducted in January among 1,652 government health care workers across the nation found that approximately 41 per cent of house officers working at public hospitals in Malaysia experienced workplace bullying, while 6 per cent reported incidents of sexual harassment at work.
The majority (83 per cent) of house officers (64 people) who reported workplace bullying in CodeBlue’s survey are working at MOH hospitals, while 17 per cent work at university hospitals (13 people).
In CodeBlue’s survey, the 41 per cent workplace bullying prevalence among house officers is 16 percentage points higher than the 25 per cent rate in the overall sample that also included medical officers, specialists and subspecialists, as well as pharmacists, dentists, nurses, medical assistants, and allied health care workers.
The 41 per cent prevalence of workplace bullying among trainee doctors in CodeBlue’s poll is also more than five times higher than the 7.4 per cent reported in the Healthcare Work Culture Improvement Task Force (HWCITF) poll of over 110,000 respondents across 30 service schemes in the MOH.
HWCITF’s report on its survey omitted bullying prevalence specific to housemen and junior medical officers that only made up 11 per cent of its overall sample.
In interviews with CodeBlue, house officers in several MOH hospitals have reported feeling overwhelmed due to staff shortages. In addition to their primary duties, they reportedly carry out multiple job scopes at once, including finding beds for patients, changing bed sheets, clerking patients, taking vital signs, taking blood, and doing electrocardiograms (ECGs).
Some medical officers have been accused of neglecting their responsibilities and passing work onto house officers, resulting in the latter being overworked and even subjected to mistreatment by senior nurses and medical assistants.