Violence against medical workers in China may be fuelled by distrust

Government circular aims to halt violence in hospitals, but some say problem must be tackled at its root, as many distrust doctors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:07am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 2:01pm

It was another harrowing week for China's frontline medical staff, with two more doctors attacked - one fatally - at work by disgruntled patients.

On Monday, Sun Dongtao, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at Beigang Hospital in Qiqihar city, Heilongjiang , was beaten to death with an iron bar by a patient unhappy with treatment he received before the Lunar New Year.

Li Aixin, a doctor at the Yi County People's Hospital in Hebei, was stabbed in the throat on Tuesday by a patient dissatisfied with the outcome of an operation. Li was seriously injured but survived.

The two attacks are but the latest in a long line in recent years. Doctors, nurses and hospital orderlies have fallen victim to disgruntled patients or their families. Some were humiliated, forced to kneel in front of dead bodies of patients or, more often, assaulted with weapons. Medical staff have implored authorities to stop the violence in hospitals, prompting a circular issued by the Ministry of Public Security and National Health and Family Planning Commission. Though highly visible on the walls of hospitals, the circular has not deterred assaults on medical workers.

According to a China Radio International report, the China Medical Doctors' Association has called for security checks at hospitals.

Xinhua, however, said neither security checks nor training doctors in self-defence were proper solutions, and said more attention should be paid to resolving conflicts at their root.

Hospitals can be intimidating institutions that swallow money. Most dread the high cost of treatment even though many have public medical insurance. Some patients also do not fully trust doctors, whom they blame for prescribing drugs and treatment without adequate consultation and assume doctors benefit financially from the prescriptions, Xinhua said.

The agency said anger and violence against doctors would only ease if the cost of health care were reduced, and ways were found to improve the public's faith in doctors.

The Changjiang Daily said rumours of doctors getting kickbacks from drug companies were not unfounded and that sometimes doctors appeared to lack sympathy for patients.

"It is necessary to change the system of 'supporting doctors by prescribing drugs', referring to hospitals being allowed to charge a surcharge of up to 15 per cent for drugs, to restore patients' faith in doctors," its commentary said. "Only when doctors earn their bread by their skill and technology, and treating their patients properly, can the doctor-patient relationship be restored."

A commentary on Shaoxing.com.cn, the news portal in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, where a doctor was assaulted and forced to kneel before the corpse of a former patient, said that last year 40 per cent of medical disputes were solved through private settlements, which encouraged families to profit by creating a scene at hospital. On the other hand, 96 per cent of disputes handled by an independent board to settle medical disputes were solved.

"The authorities should enhance the transparency of independent bodies in solving disputes … All medical disputes that demand large compensation must go through judicial channels to ensure that medical-dispute profiteering is not tolerated," it said.

The Beijing News pointed out that many of the assaulted doctors were ENT specialists, making it the riskiest department in hospitals.

The commentary added that ENT patients usually sought treatment to correct discomfort but were not well prepared for the side effects or complications of the treatment.

"It is like a deaf man who is cured only to become a mute. It's likely to cause discontent. We should have proper channels for patients to air their grievances or more ENT doctors will become the victims of an unsound system."