Violence against health workers on the rise

130 attacks in June alone, says Health Commission


Saudi Gazette report

– Verbal and physical assaults on health practitioners are on the increase in recent months, raising the concern of authorities as well as health workers. The Saudi Commission for Health Specialties (SCFHS) said it received 130 complaints related to such attacks in June.

Victims of these attacks include doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators, Al-Madina Arabic daily said in a report.

“An unidentified gunman opened fire on a male nurse at King Salman Hospital in Riyadh just recently,” the report said while highlighting the dangerous security situation in hospitals.

The SCFHS said it would provide legal support to health workers who fall victims to verbal and physical attacks and sexual harassment. Those who attack health practitioners on duty will face 10 years in prison and a fine of up to SR1 million.

The Health Ministry has categorically stated that it would not show any leniency toward those who attack its staff members and take all measures to ensure their protection. “We’ll take legal measures to protect their rights,” the ministry added.

In a statement following a knife attack on a nurse in Madinah recently, Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah emphasized his ministry’s desire to protect the rights of health practitioners.

“We have worked with other departments to treat all attacks against health practitioners as a crime and impose the toughest punishment on perpetrators,” he added. “Fortunately, court verdicts have been issued against some attackers,” he pointed out.

The law governing medical practice in the Kingdom, which was issued in January 2006, stresses the need to monitor doctors while practicing their profession.

“It’s the right of patients to demand compensation in case of any mistakes on the part of the doctor and punish him according to the law,” Al-Rabiah said. At the same time, doctors should be given protection to do their job with peace of mind and concentration, he added.

In its report, Al-Madina identified five main reasons for attacks against health professionals. They include poor enforcement of law, the unacceptable level of healthcare services, mismanagement of the transfer of patients to referral hospitals, and a lack of training on how to deal with patients and their relatives. Moreover, security guards at hospitals are not given powers to intervene and prevent such attacks.

Lawyer Dima Al-Sharief said health regulations in the Kingdom did not provide a framework for the protection of health practitioners from attacks by patients and their relatives. “We have noticed that attacks on health workers are on the increase. As legal practitioners we work for the defense of the victims,” she added.

She emphasized the need to fill this gap by the authorities as quickly as possible by enacting laws to ensure the protection of health practitioners across the country.

Mohammed Al-Sinan, a researcher, called upon the ministry to conduct a study on the reasons behind the recurrent attacks and deal with them as individual cases. He urged hospitals to protect the rights of patients by providing them with necessary care and attention.

“Attacking health practitioners is an unacceptable crime,” Al-Sinan said. “It cannot be justified and it’s against the teachings of Islam and a violation of the law.”

However, he added: “We should find out the reasons behind these attacks to prevent their recurrence.”

He said unacceptable behavior by health workers and poor service were the main reasons for such attacks.

Sociologist Naseem Al-Zahrani stressed that there is no justification whatsoever for the attacks against health practitioners. However, she pointed out that health practitioners must treat patients and their relatives with compassion, considering their psychological state.

“Doctors and nurses attend a number of training courses inside hospitals but these courses often ignore the importance of dealing with patients kindly and decently,” Al-Zahrani told Al-Madina.

Many health practitioners are unaware of the ways to deal with angry relatives, especially when a patient’s condition becomes worse. “The relation between a doctor and his patient is a professional as well as a human relationship and it should be based on mutual respect and confidence,” Al-Zahrani said.

She said this relationship would become strong only when both sides are assured of their rights and fulfill their duties. “If this cycle of violence will continued and the main loser would be patients and the healthcare system,” Al-Zahrani warned.