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Healthcare workers deserve respect

Workplace violence is never justified and should never be tolerated by those who have a responsibility to ensure that workers are safe when performing their duties. It is, therefore, disturbing to read that nurses and other healthcare professionals are occasionally subjected to violence by patients or their relatives.

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses has asked the management of Mater Dei Hospital to review procedures following an assault on ambulance staff. This newspaper has also reported that, in another incident, nurses in one ward had to deal with aggressive and misbehaving relatives and friends of a patient. When the security officers arrived, they apparently did little to control the situation.

Sadly, these are not isolated cases. Healthcare professionals have to put up with dysfunctional behaviours for so long that some of them do not even recognise it as workplace violence. Most get on with their work and others may not report violent incidents in fear of retaliation. Stress, hard work, fatigue and working daily with sights, sounds and smells that would make many average adults queasy, go with the job of nurses. But physical and verbal attacks do not go in a nurse’s job description.

Working directly with patients in emotional and physical pain will always put healthcare workers at risk of violence. It is the employers’ responsibility to minimise such dangers to employees. Lack of money should never be a sufficient reason not to employ more nurses and security guards.

The increase of immigrant workers and an ageing population is putting more pressure on the nursing staff in the public health system. The financing model for our public health services is evidently inadequate, leading to the prioritisation of expenditure items with a focus on saving on labour costs.

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority must review the security measures in place in the country’s health system to ensure that workers are protected from workplace physical and verbal violence.

If security arrangements are inadequate, the OHSA should hold the hospital authorities accountable as much as they would do in an industrial workplace. The health and safety regulator should insist with the government and the hospitals’ management to define personal safety standards as when danger in the workplace grows it may contribute to the shortage of nurses.

Legislation should also be enacted to set harsher penalties for those who use violence against healthcare workers, teachers and the police. More importantly, the endemic laissez-faire attitude on enforcement of regulations should be banished and action invariably taken against violators, whoever they may be.

Medical professionals’ unions need to continue to raise awareness on every incident of violence against members. They should insist that better-trained security staff is employed so when such events do occur, they are controlled effectively.

Nurses training courses should include modules on how to deal with violent incidents efficiently to protect themselves from physical or psychological harm.

There may be some policymakers who are walking around with blinders and will not admit that violence against healthcare workers is a serious matter. Budgetary limitation considerations will always be a challenge but guaranteeing the health and safety of every worker is not negotiable.

When there are not enough nurses in our hospitals and those who are there feel stressed and unsafe, patients and staff all end up suffering.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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