KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 — Selayang MP William Leong has highlighted the pervasive abuse of health care professionals by patients and their accompanying relatives at public hospitals, particularly in emergency departments.
CodeBlue yesterday reported complaints by Selayang Hospital medical officers about increasingly frequent verbal abuse suffered by doctors at the emergency department (ED) due to long waiting hours caused by severe staff shortages, including one case that led to a staff member filing a police report against a patient’s accompanying relative earlier this month.
“Patient rage is a big problem. Nurses and doctors are traumatised by the conduct of patients’ family members who take out their rage on them,” Leong told CodeBlue.
“ED doctors are the frontline of frontliners. At Selayang Hospital, they are also the first responders to emergencies, such as accidents and disasters, being the nearest to Karak Highway and Genting.
“The patient rage is particularly severe and have put many of the doctors and nurses under severe stress. There is an urgent need for greater public understanding that ED staff are doing their best within the difficult constraints and circumstances they are operating under and not to take it out on the frontliners.”
Earlier this month, the PKR MP told Parliament that the emergency department at Selayang Hospital, a tertiary Ministry of Health (MOH) hospital, was so crowded that a patient with a heart attack couldn’t get admitted even after waiting for 16 hours, forcing the patient to leave to get an immediate operation in another hospital.
Selayang Hospital doctors interviewed by CodeBlue recently, including one who quit the MOH last month, said they felt that their work environment was unsafe – particularly if they were the sole medical officer in a zone at the emergency unit or if they were stationed in the Green Zone (non-critical) where patients and accompanying family members wait together.
Some of the aggressive behaviours reportedly displayed by patients’ accompanying relatives towards emergency doctors were shouting or yelling, slamming the door in their faces, threatening to record them, incessant knocking on the doors of consultation rooms, and confrontations in the zones at the emergency department.
Selayang Hospital medical officers noted that the root cause of doctor abuse was manpower shortage, pointing out that the public hospital’s ED alone lost 20 doctors to transfers from the MOH’s nationwide relocation exercise of more than 4,000 medical officers for permanent appointments last July 31. They said there were no replacements.
Compared to 2021, one doctor now handles the workload of three. One medical officer also complained that blood test results at Selayang Hospital take a whopping six hours, compared to one hour even at a small district hospital.
A cross-sectional study published last May in the IIUM Medical Journal Malaysia – which was conducted among doctors at the emergency departments of 14 state tertiary government hospitals throughout Malaysia – found that nearly 99 per cent experienced some kind of bullying. The majority of perpetrators of distressing incidents for respondents were the accompanying relatives of patients.