Patients abuse hospital staff

Police, HSA crack down

Increasing incidents of abuse and threats of violence against front-line staff at the Cayman Islands Hospital have prompted the Health Services Authority to team up with the police to deter further occurrences.

Dr. Tamer Tadros, HSA medical director, explained that the security situation at the hospital has gotten serious enough to warrant new, strict measures to ensure the safety of staff.

‘The cases of abuse have been increasing in frequency and in seriousness. We are facing doctors and nurses leaving this hospital because of this situation.

‘I was shocked by the stories I have been hearing in exit interviews. We are losing good doctors and nurses because they don’t want to be abused. They are doing a good job and I am proud of every one of them.

‘I am disappointed and sad to hear the stories. If we can’t provide safety to our people then we are not doing a good job. The problem is out of control and escalating very quickly,’ Mr. Tadros said.

The HSA, with the support of the Royal Cayman Islands Police, have instituted a zero-tolerance policy under which any verbal and/or physical abuse directed at hospital staff by patients or visitors to any HSA facility may result in the withholding of treatment. In addition, offenders may be arrested.

‘Patients would only be banned from elective treatment as you cannot turn away patients who need emergency treatment,’ Mr. Tadros said.

If patients who undergo emergency treatment abuse staff, the hospital will take action, he added.

‘It is not only the A&E (Accident and Emergency Department), but the whole hospital. People are misusing the hospital. They think they can do whatever they want and still be treated because it is the only government hospital. We have an obligation to treat everyone but they may end up in jail. It’s not a free ride any more,’ he said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis met with HSA representatives last week to discuss the issue. He has pledged full police support and explained that there have been several reported incidents at the hospital.

‘The calls for police assistance were of a sufficient number to warrant this kind of response. Some of the incidents included threats of violence to the staff.

‘The problem was to such a degree that there was serious concern for their safety. But even one call involving violence would be serious enough. Persons should not be allowed to work under fear of violence or threat to their safety and welfare,’ Mr. Ennis said.

He believes that the cases mostly occurred at the A&E department, usually at nights and weekends.

‘That’s the time the staff will be under stress as well and feel more vulnerable. I can understand their fears and trepidation.

‘I’ve issued instructions that we should increase police patrols at the hospital. I’ve instructed my officers also that any offences committed should be prosecuted,’ Mr. Ennis said.

Mr. Tadros offered examples of the types of abuse the staff is facing.

‘People come to the A&E and call staff names and threaten the doctors and nurses. One patient threatened a staff member that he was going home to get a gun and coming back to shoot them to death. Some nurses and doctors have also been physically pushed around.

‘These are not people necessarily drunk or under the influence. It’s become a habit. Since we are the only government hospital they think we have to help them. We will do that but we will also call the police and take any legal steps necessary. But if they are here for elective treatment they are not going to get help,’ he said.

Mr. Tadros also emphasised that the zero-tolerance policy was not the result of a unilateral initiative.

‘The policy was well-prepared with the cooperation of the police and our legal department,’ he said.

The medical director added that abuse can come in written form as well.

‘Abuse is not only verbal, but also written. When people complain about the hospital and use bad language I will send these letters to the court as evidence, if necessary.

‘You can complain, but you don’t have to damage the reputation of people. It is not tolerable any more,’ he said.

Mr. Ennis explained that the police are committed to ensuring safety at the hospital.

‘The increased police presence will continue as long as necessary. I encourage people to understand the conditions health care providers have to work under. It’s very stressful. Patients should be understanding and respectful,’ he said.

Mr. Tadros added that the problem could have greater ramifications.

‘This country has to realise that everything is on the internet. If doctors go back to their countries and tell their stories, no one will want to come here. Is this what we want?’

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