Providing health care is a demanding job. More often than not our nurses, doctors, emergency management technicians and other personnel are taken for granted and worse yet, abused.
For so long they have kept silent vigil on verbal abuse and physical assaults.
In 2018, the World Health Organization estimated that between eight per cent and 38 per cent of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers. For the nursing profession, the statistics are much higher.
Just over a week ago, one of the island’s most heavily frequented health care centres, the Winston Scott Polyclinic, was forced to upgrade security measures after repeated violent attacks threatened the safety of workers.
Nurses walked off the job in frustration, prompting quick action from Minister of Health and Wellness Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, who described their concerns as “legitimate”.
Since then, security guards have been tightly managing the flow of foot traffic into the clinic, including conducting scans with the use of a wand and there is now a limit to the number of people who can accompany a patient seeking care.
Additionally, the number of security cameras has moved from 16 to 28.
It’s rudely distressing that we have come to this state of affairs, but in the current environment where some bent on perpetrating lawlessness are terrorising society, there is little choice.
Never can we afford to tolerate any outburst of physical violence in our society and most definitely not against our health care providers.
A polyclinic is a place of healing, not horror.
To quote Minister of Health and Wellness Lt Jeffrey Bostic, “this is a no, no.”
He told the House: “I appeal to people to be responsible for this because when you behave in a manner that was displayed over the last two or three weeks and you traumatise the staff and then services cannot be delivered, you may be stopping services from being delivered to your family, friends and members of your community and that does not make sense.”
There can be no room for indifference on this issue.
We are aware that nurses and other health care workers already know of the possibilities of being scratched, grabbed, spat on and kicked in some cases from patients suffering from illnesses including schizophrenia, psychosis or dementia.
But to be harassed and threatened for merely doing their jobs is out of order.
We, therefore, support Lt. Col. Bostic’s signal that his ministry would take tough action to counter the bad behaviour if warranted.
Said Bostic: “And while I am not one that is in favour of denying people access to health care. If you have repeat offenders then we are going to have to find some mechanisms to ensure that the few do not interrupt the flow of the many.”
Naturally, we hope it doesn’t come to this.
What is really needed though is a cultural change underscoring that it is not okay to attack a nurse?
It is biting the hand that feeds you.
Nurses, too, must stand their ground, speak out and report violent incidents. Complaints must not merely remain on file but handled efficiently.
Furthermore, we recommend that some consideration is given to violence-prevention programmes where workers are trained to recognise common warning signs, such as threatening body language and educate them about strategies to diffuse tense situations.
In less than two months, Barbados will make another progressive step to improve the delivery of health care to the public with the introduction of around-the-clock service at the Sir Winston Scott Polyclinic and the David Thompson Health and Social Services Complex.
The move is welcomed and in fact overdue especially when one considers the pressure at the Accident and Emergency Department where patients have to endure long periods given the sheer demand for its services.
Our nurses and other health care practitioners must be allowed to function in an atmosphere of peace and security. They deserve nothing less.
Those who would seek to cause harm to them and to those in their care deserve nothing less than to feel the full weight of the law.