Two years after the Chinese authorities vowed to get tough on violence against doctors, nurses and other medical staff, there is little sign that work safety in China’s hospitals has improved.
Chinese media reported three attacks on eight doctors in just one day this week, 23 May, the most serious incident occurring at the Dafeng Hospital in Guangzhou when five doctors were attacked by the angry relatives of a woman who had died after an operation.
Dafeng Hospital staff stage protest after attack on five doctors.
These incidents followed the death of a doctor in Hunan on 15 May after he was hit on the head by the relative of a patient waiting to see him. On 11 May, three people were detained in Chongqing after attacking a doctor with a knife, while in Guangzhou, a well-known retired dentist, Chen Zhongwei, was reportedly stabbed to death by a former patient with a history of mental illness.
The attack on Dr Chen sparked a public outcry, with hundreds gathering at Guangzhou’s Hero Square on 7 May to mourn him and criticise China’s health care system for failing to protect frontline staff.
Two years ago, in April 2014, the Supreme People’s Court, in conjunction with the police, judiciary and public health bodies, issued an Opinion on the punishment of crimes against medical staff and the maintenance of normal medical order (关于依法惩处涉医违法犯罪维护正常医疗秩序的意见), which classified six commonly seen forms of violence against hospital workers as criminal acts, punishable by law. These acts included: Attacking doctors and damaging public property, setting up shrines and burning paper money (as an offering to dead patients) in medical institutions, restricting doctors' freedom, insulting medical workers, entering medical institutions with illegal arms, and instigating others to commit crimes against medical staff.
The Opinion has clearly had little deterrent effect on angry patients and their family members who are frustrated by the high cost and inefficiency of the medical system in China and who often lash out at the nearest and easiest target, the frontline medical staff.
Some hospitals have increased the number of security guards on duty but most security guards are poorly paid, poorly trained, and may be reluctant to risk their life to protect other hospital staff.
The dangerous working conditions, long hours and low pay of hospital staff has led many healthcare workers to resign. One doctor who quit, talked to Initium Media about the intense, results driven management style of public hospitals, which he blamed for many of the problems. The doctor, Wang Sen, stated that his hospital:
Started to emphasize the ‘turnover rate,’ shortening the average length of stay for each patient and pushing us to make surgery more efficient. The average length of stay was like the turnover rate at a restaurant: the more patients you get in a certain timeframe, the better. But the quality of care went down. This stuff is good for the management people, like the president and the director, because shortened average length of stay is an example of their managerial efficiency. It makes them look good.
The marketization and commodification of healthcare in China has led to a breakdown in trust between doctors and patients, and made it impossible for many healthcare professionals to continue.