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02.07.2012 03:25    Comments: 0    Categories: World News      Tags: jamaica healthcare system  

Patient rage hits doctors

Medics complain about increase in verbal and physical abuse

By Nadine Wilson Observer staff reporter

Monday, February 06, 2012

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Patient rage is apparently fuelling an increase in verbal and physical attacks on doctors, the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) heard yesterday at the Third Annual Ethics Conference.

But hospital workers are also said to be among the aggressors against doctors, prompting concerns that forced the issue to the top of the conference agenda at the Mona's Visitor's Lodge, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus.

(L-R) Jamaica Medical Doctors Association interim president Dr Timothy Mitchell and member Dr Sajeevika Amarakoon go through a copy of the ATL Group’s Unbeatable publication with health minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, ATL Motors sales supervisor Petrena Perser and after-sales manager Sean Ramsay, during yesterday's third annual ethics conference at The Mona Visitors’ Lodge at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

"We have seen increasing acts of violence towards doctors, mainly verbal and physical abuse, with verbal being the majority," interim president of the JMDA, Dr Timothy Mitchell said.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson was among the audience which heard the dcotors' complaints. He had addressed the conference earlier.

While Mitchell did not have any statistics to support claims of an increase of violence against doctors, he said the JMDA was aware of more reports of this nature coming to them.

"It has been increasing certainly in terms of the reported cases. Normally what would happen is that doctors would have the act of violence and we wouldn't necessarily hear about it, but I guess because you are having more women being involved, they are now coming out and making statements," he said.

"Most of the time it is verbal attacks in terms of patients waiting long in clinics, in health centres and sometimes in casualty. A lot of the time in the causalty where you have to be waiting a long while, the patients take it out on doctors," the doctor explained.

Consultant pathologist Dr Nadia Williams said doctors were at times threatened, intimated, stalked and physically abused by patients and sometimes their colleagues, but failed to make formal complaints since there were not many avenues for recourse. Policies treating with the issue in the major hospitals were virtually non-existent she noted.

"If you don't feel that it matters or that it's going to make a difference, then very often, you will accept it and you won't bother to even try to make a difference by reporting the incidence," the doctor pointed out.

Dr Williams recalled being afraid to walk the corridors of the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) during her internship in 1980, because she was being stalked by a porter. She said there had been more recent cases where residents had left the medical programme because of stalking by porters or because they were dealt with harshly or harassed by other medical practitioners.

Some doctors were working in fear because of the threats of violence they experienced, said Jacinth Lindo, a lecturer who was one of the lead researchers on a study that was carried out in 2010 by the University of the West Indies School of Nursing, the Department of Community Health and Psychiatry Violence Alliance Centre, UWI and the Kingston Pubic Hospital.

"It is something to hear when you listen to the health workers - primarily physicians - when they describe the level of fear in some of these exchanges with the clients when they are locked in a room with one door for an exit and they will tell you for example at KPH that they avoid doing triage in rooms with one door," she said.

"The areas that we identified as the two main areas was the accident and emergency and the Radiology Department. We did not anticipate getting the response that we got from radiology and what that entails is the idea that you are locked in a room with the individual. One person actually said that one patient disarmed a police officer and it was the porter who assisted the police to contain the patient," she told the conference.

For the 2010 study, focus group discussions were held with 22 members of staff at UWI and KPH who worked at the institutions for over five years.

"Patients were more likely to exhibit violent behaviours following long waiting periods. A lack of understanding of medical jargon, the triage system utilised in A and E (accident and emergency) and the necessity to refer clients to primary health care facilities sometimes resulted in violent behaviour," the study found. And underreporting of these violent actions was common since invariably no actions were taken.

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