by Thu Trang
It is normal that hospitals everywhere receive their share of praise and criticism, given the nature of work they do, the constraints they face, especially in developing countries like Viet Nam.
It is also normal that complaints about hospitals revolve around the quality of healthcare provided, whether it is the lack of facilities, overcrowding, lack of doctors and other medical staff like nurses and attendants, lack of hygiene, inattentive staff and so on.
What is not normal is that patients and their loved ones have to worry about safety and security issues in hospitals that are completely unrelated to healthcare.
Now, we have to wonder, is this going to be the new normal?
A baby was kidnapped from a hospital in HCM City's District 7 last Thursday by a woman who'd suffered a miscarriage when her own foetus was three months old. She was desperate to have a baby because she was afraid that her husband would abandon her if she was unable to give him an heir.
Fortunately, the story had a somewhat happy ending with the baby rescued and taken back to his parents safely on Monday.
But this incident only reminded people about a similar case that happened towards the end of 2011, when another baby was kidnapped from the Ha Noi Hospital for Obstetrics and Gynaecology by a woman for the same reason.
Then, at the beginning of this month, one female patient at the Saint Paul Hospital in the capital city had a foot severed completely with a knife by her younger brother, who was high on methamphetamine. Nurses on duty were helpless because the man threatened them with the knife as well.
In another case last September, around 30 people armed with knives and other weapons stormed the Gia Dinh Emergency Hospital in HCM City. They came to intimidate doctors into not treating a patient.
So it is not just patients and their relatives who suffer from the lack of security in hospitals and other medical facilities.
Nguyen Thu Quynh, a nurse at the Ha Noi Hospital for Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said that in hospitals, surgeons face the highest risk of being attacked, as many people tend to blame them for any failure or fatality, and seek to vent their fury and frustration with violence, beating up the doctors they hold responsible.
"My hospital has a team of guards, but many times they are powerless against such aggressive people," she said.
Quynh said she hoped the hospital will hire more bodyguards, especially in the surgery ward, so that doctors can feel secure when they conduct operations.
Responding to such incidents, hospitals in major cities have announced measures to step up security in their facilities.
The HCM City People's Committee has sent a directive to hospitals in the city on improving their security management, suggesting measures like installing cameras, assigning more guards and issuing ID cards for patients' relatives.
As a mother of two children prone to falling sick whenever the weather changes, requiring frequent hospital visits for health checks and treatments, I am both anxious and appreciative of all steps taken to deal with the security problem.
But I also doubt whether the measures announced so far will be effective and maintained in the long term. The fear of similar cases happening in the future will not go away from my mind.
In all the above-mentioned incidents, the consequences could have been worse, so there is the likelihood that future victims are not as fortunate as they have been so far.
I am not alone in harbouring such fears.
Tran Thi Thuy, a resident of Dong Da District in Ha Noi, said she believes all the security measures planned cannot be effective if hospitals are overcrowded, which they are, for the most part.
"It is not uncommon that two or three patients share one sick bed, while crowds of relatives stand or sit along the corridor. How many people can cameras cover?"
Thuy said that to improve safety and security in hospitals, advanced technology should be applied to reduce crowding as much as possible.
She said patients should register for their health checks via the telephone, receive and check results online, and pay hospital bills online or transfer it from their banks.
"Such measures will help reduce the number of people gathering in hospital and can reduce the possibility of accidents or kidnappings," she said.
Nguyen Van Khoa, a member of the Hai Phong Lawyers' Association, said more attention has to be paid to the quality of guards hired by medical facilities including hospitals.
"Hospitals should hire guards with proper qualifications and skills like martial arts so that they can make timely interventions. I know that many hospitals now hire retired workers to work as their guards," he said.
He said policymakers and lawmakers should make effective contributions to improving the security situation at hospitals, since current regulations are not strong enough to even prevent avoidable problems like overcrowding by relatives and friends of patients.
It is evident that improving hospital security requires the contributions of many sectors, not to mention society as a whole.
Will this happen? And will it happen soon enough?
We cannot afford to wait with crossed fingers. Authorities have to take the lead and citizens have to respond with constructive criticism and action. If we fail to act now, we might end up crying over spilt milk, again and again. — VNS