Doctors doubt 'hollow vow'
Medical professionals cast doubt on the effectiveness of a pledge to curb angry displays by relatives of patients who die unexpectedly, saying it merely paid lip-service to a practice that has seen doctors killed.
In one of the latest incidents, more than 40 doctors and nurses at the privately run Baixin Hospital in Hengshan county, Shaanxi, were forced to kneel during a funeral rite for an elderly man who died while in their care, according to a video circulating online. The man died in March due to a tear in his stomach lining.
On Monday, the ministries of health and public security issued a directive outlining illegal public behaviour at medical facilities and warned that offenders would be prosecuted.
But industry professionals took little relief in the announcement, saying it was unlikely to clamp down on the growing violence.
Dr Zhang Qiang, a senior vascular surgeon from Shanghai's Oriental Hospital, said the directive was a hollow gesture that merely indicated health authorities were aware of the problem.
'It means the government is not serious about their obligation and has simply issued an irresponsible directive to quell widespread doctors' dissatisfaction,' Zhang said. The senior surgeon called for a more meaningful response from the central government to address disputes between the public and doctors, while warning that the violence might scare younger practitioners into leaving hospitals.
The ministries' directive stated that medical institutions are important venues to guarantee people's health and is was forbidden for an individual or organisation to disrupt hospital order.
It warned against infringing on the rights of other patients or jeopardising the safety of hospital workers.
The ministries also highlighted some of the practices angry family members have adopted - setting up memorial wreathes or burning paper money in hospitals, laying out the body in a public area, destroying hospital property - in addition to humiliating, threatening and attacking medical employees.
Anyone who commits such offences would be punished according to the mainland's social security management regulation and the criminal law, the authorities said.
The mainland has seen at least five incidents of violence directed at doctors since last summer.
In the most recent case, a woman doctor at the No 3 People's Hospital in Hengyang , Hunan province, died after a patient cut her neck on Saturday. In another incident, a young doctor in Harbin , Heilongjiang , was killed by a patient he had not treated. The incident involving staff kneeling during a funeral rite at the Baixin Hospital was being investigated, said an official from the county's health bureau.
The hospital was closed in the meantime, said the official, who declined to be named.
Professor Zhou Zijun, from Peking University, said the anger towards doctors and hospitals stemmed from a wider feeling of distrust prevailing in society.
He said police officers should work more closely with hospitals to contain the outbursts, instead of viewing them as medical disputes that did not concern them.
A man waiting outside the outpatient hall at Shanghai's Huashan Hospital said the directive would not be of any use and he scoffed at the idea that doctors were the ones who needed more attention from the government.
'I have to line up for four hours before I can see a doctor, who then spends only a few minutes giving me advice,' he said. 'Hospital and doctors are too arrogant.'