Independent Editorial - Protecting those who protect our health - 9/7/2004

Protecting those who protect our health

The scandalous attack on two doctors at the Casualty Department early yesterday morning is a wake-up call and is also cause for an in-depth investigation into the workings of the St Luke’s security system.

The background to the case was that a man and a woman went to Casualty, with the latter claiming she was in a critical condition. A female doctor duly examined her but found nothing wrong with her. This diagnosis by the doctor apparently fanned the flames and the “patient” proceeded to drag the doctor down the corridor by her hair.

Another doctor, who is said to be a veteran with 25 years’ experience (so therefore somewhat advanced in age) tried to calm the situation, but ended up taking a punch square in the face. The male assailant stopped there, but reports stated that it took four nurses and a Mobile Squad policeman – who was there by coincidence – to tear the enraged woman off the helpless doctor.

The fact of the matter is that security guards should have been present to at least stop the attack before one of the doctors, a woman to boot, was dragged the whole length of a corridor by her hair. There were two security guards assigned to Casualty and it was after midnight that the attack took place. One cannot guess where they were, but an attack such as this surely calls for a large investigation into the practices of security guards at St Luke’s. If the investigating body finds that there was indeed some form of neglect of duties by the security guards, then disciplinary measures have to be taken and an example needs to be made out of them. This is even more pertinent when we are planning to move to a brand new hospital in the next few years. Would it be of any use to anyone moving there with old work practices?

The Health Division has already condemned the attacks, and said it has arranged to have a police officer assigned to fixed-point duties. A case of “too little, too late”.

Everyone knows the problems at Casualty. Almost every hospital in the world has the same problems. Over-worked doctors, tired nurses from very long and arduous shifts, lack of tip-top equipment, long queues, irate patients who are still sometimes in shock and full of adrenaline. These are problems that swamp nearly all Casualty Departments.

But we believe that the doctors, nurses and all staff at Casualty are our first line of defence against sudden illness and they are also the first people who will battle to save our lives. They deserve more respect from the public and they deserve the respect of those security guards who were not there when two of them were in need of their protection.

We also have to bear in mind that these people see horrific injuries everyday. They see mangled limbs, shotgun wounds, stabbings and much, much more. Imagine what that female doctor must have felt when she realised that she was dealing with a raving hypochondriac. But did she drag the woman out of Casualty by her hair? The simple answer is no.

It is unacceptable to have incidents such as the one that took place in the early hours of yesterday morning. The medical association had been asking for CCTVs to be installed in the Emergency Department for many months, but no one took up their request. After yesterday’s attack, it is clear why they had asked for them.

We need to be more respectful to Casualty staff. And we are sure that if the couple who attacked the doctors had suffered serious injuries and were in need of prompt and professional treatment – as is usually administered at St Luke’s – then they would have had a lot more respect for the medical staff at the hospital. Take note, one day your life might be in the hands of staff at the Casualty

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