Cases of harassment or abuse of healthcare workers rose to 1,300 last year

A healthcare worker is pictured at a swabbing station during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A healthcare worker is pictured at a swabbing station during the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on 25 January, 2021. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Cases of healthcare workers encountering harassment or physical or verbal abuse rose from about 1,080 in 2018 to 1,300 last year, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday (1 February).

This was based on data provided by public healthcare institutions, Gan added in a written parliamentary response.

Over the same period, the number of cases of harassment or abuse of public healthcare workers while on duty that were reported to the police increased 40 in 2018 to 58 last year, he said.

The police do not specifically track reports made by healthcare workers for abuse or harassment while they are off-duty, according to Gan.

He was responding to questions raised by Dr Tan Wu Meng, Jurong GRC MP, on the annual number of such cases reported as well as those leading to police reports and legal actions. Dr Tan also asked whether the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) protects off-duty nurses and healthcare workers who encounter harassment pertaining to their healthcare role while such workers are on public transport, in public areas, or at home.

Under POHA, offenders who harass anyone, at any time, can face a maximum fine of $5,000 or a jail term of up to six months, or both. Victims may also obtain protection orders restraining their perpetrators from further acts of harassment or sue them for damages.

“Punishments are higher if the offence is directed at public sector workers in the course of their duties under Section 6 of POHA,” said Gan.

Offenders who harass or abuse public healthcare workers in the course of their work are liable for enhanced penalties, and may face a maximum fine of $5,000 or a jail term of up to 12 months, or both.

“Our healthcare workers deserve to work in a safe environment while they care for patients. The MOH (Ministry of Health) and our public healthcare institutions adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards staff abuse and harassment and will not hesitate to take appropriate actions against abuse and harassment of our healthcare workers,” said Gan.

In response to a question by Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ng Ling Ling on the public health institutions’ escalation processes for frontline healthcare workers who are verbally or physically harassed, Gan noted that there have been concerns about the healthcare workers’ well-being due to the increased workloads and higher levels of stress during the pandemic.

Such concerns also question whether there is an adequate and effective social support system in place to ensure their psychological well-being, he added.

“To cope with mental health issues, healthcare workers can tap on the counselling services, staff helplines, and peer support programmes highlighted earlier. To enhance the preparedness and resilience of staff coping with stressful situations, some institutions have also rolled out bite-sized training modules on stress management and regularly shared mental health tips with their staff,” said Gan.

The MOH will continue to work closely with public healthcare institutions to monitor and introduce timely measures to enhance staff well-being, he added.

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