Hospital staff and the public are split over a controversial Dongguan government regulation requiring hospitals to stock up on nightsticks and pepper spray to cope with violence from patients' families.
The government issued the regulation in February to boost security at the city's medical facilities.
'Medical institutions should provide sufficient equipment for security guards, and set up special depositories in security rooms, where defensive equipment including helmets, shields, cut-resistant gloves, bright flashlights and walkie-talkies should be allocated to each person on shift. Offensive equipment including batons, nightsticks, pepper spray and knife-proof vests can be properly provided for emergency use,' the regulation said.
Dongguan Health Bureau assistant spokesman Wu Zongcai said the regulation was just a draft and there was no timetable for its implementation. The bureau said on its website that the purpose of upgrading hospital security was to 'protect people's lives and property, safety and normal public order in hospitals'.
The ruling comes six months after one doctor was stabbed to death and another seriously injured by a patient in Dongguan Changan Hospital.
A Changan Hospital security guard said all of the hospital's 30 or so security guards were equipped with batons and other riot gear before the Lunar New Year.
'All the equipment was distributed by the local police station. But for offensive equipment like pepper spray, we still need to wait for further instructions,' the guard said.
The guard said the equipment was essential for emergencies and it was always better to be well prepared for so-called yinao - or 'hospital disturbances' - a reference to violent incidents staged by a patient's family looking for compensation following unsuccessful treatment.
He said the most recent yinao involved the parents of a child who died in hospital before the Lunar New Year. Demanding compensation for the death, the parents refused to have the body cremated, holding up hospital procedures.
The hospital's head of security supported the decision to boost security, saying guards needed to protect themselves first to protect medical staff and patients. 'It is impossible to do so with bare hands,' he said.
According to Dongguan Health Bureau director Cai Yiping, 736 medical disputes occurred in the city between 2008 and 2010. Cai told the Dongguan session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in January that more than 100 of these cases were classified as yinao. 'Dongguan hospitals spent more than 10 million yuan (HK$12.3 million) settling yinao each year. Almost every hospital has experienced yinao,' the Southern Metropolis Daily quoted Cai as saying.
But critics have surfaced online, with warnings that the hospitals could use the pepper spray and nightsticks to respond to legitimate demands from patients' families.
Some medical professionals also expressed doubts. Zhong Nanshan, head of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, was quoted by the Southern Metropolis Daily as saying that handling disputes between doctors and patients in such a negative way would only worsen tension.
The number of hours one patient's angry family kept the director of Dongguan's Shatian Hospital under siege in his office