Thursday, 24 April 2008

Ungrateful patients

I sound like an old fogey when I bemoan the lack of personal responsibility, but the way people treat nurses and paramedics simply trying to do their job disgusts me.

They get punched and kicked, threatened with weapons, insulted and abused, and even have cigarettes stubbed out on them.

There are an estimated 75,000 attacks on NHS medical staff every year in the UK, mostly caused by binge-drinking and drug use. But only a minute number of people are convicted of an offence.

We're talking about health professionals doing the absolutely vital job of treating the sick and injured, yet there are thousands of people out there who think the best reward for that is a punch in the face or a menacing knife blade.

For them, gone are the days when you respected medical staff and courteously accepted treatment. Let alone not getting so high on drink or drugs that you are no longer in control of your actions and violence is inevitable.

The idea of personal responsibility, that you act sensibly and considerately and behave to others as you expect them to behave to you, is lost on them. Their needs come first and nobody else matters.

The problem is that nurses and doctors are reluctant to refuse treatment, even if a person is being totally uncooperative. They are committed to doing their work even when their personal safety is at risk.

We're lucky so many NHS staff are willing to continue working in such conditions and don't just walk out in favour of a more civilised workplace. But they are determined to provide a crucial service despite being permanently under seige. They all deserve medals.


GayƩ said...

I had a student back in Sydney, who was assaulted too many times at the hospital she wanted to learn self-defence. She told me she was held at needle-point, choked, slapped, grabbed, shoved. She is a lovely, gentle person, I have to say she really does care. She is a little lady, about maybe 10 years older than me with teenage kids. I always hated to hear that she had to go through all that abuse by people she was trying to help.

Nicole said...

What really gets to me in the States are drivers who don't pull over or try to get out of the way for emergency vehicles - ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, etc. I always consider that it could be my loved one or home they're trying to get to.

And I have the utmost respect for nurses and EMTs, they do a valuable service for not enough pay compared to doctors (now docs I have a love-hate relationship with).

Grannymar said...

Nick I agree but unfortunately ill manners seem to be the norm everywhere.

Nick said...

GayƩ - Your student was treated abominably. It's almost as if people don't want to be helped, the way they behave.

Nicole - Drivers here are very good at pulling over. But the emergency services are sometimes attacked or stoned when they arrive somewhere. What sort of mentality is that? We don't have the term Emergency Medical Technician here, but I guess paramedics have a similar function.

Grannymar - You're right, ill manners seem to be spreading to every situation, even from outwardly respectable people.

Los Angelista said...

A nurse or paramedic being threatened with a knife? What in the world? That's awful! I don't know how much of that we have here in the States but I do agree that rudeness and being ungrateful about the services folks do is pretty common. And I always feel horrible for them because they have to work such long hours and don't get as much pay as the doctor, even though they do most of the work.

Nick said...

Liz, I don't know the situation in the States either. I did a quick Google search and found a story on Boston EMTs who suffer around 200 attacks a year. Again it was blamed on alcohol and drugs.

As you say, nurses and paramedics not only get badly treated but work long hours for poor pay.

Dave Hampton said...

Nurses are paramedics are great!

I worked my way through college as a ward clerk, tending the desk computers and patient chards for the nursing staff. They do a hard job that few people would want and you're right, they don't get the respect that they should for being the foot-soldiers of the hospital.

I rode with paramedics to test new diagnostic and communiations gear often during the past 10 years, and always found them to be generous and hard-working. Most are firefighters with advanced medical training (literally thousands of hours) and make around $20 per hour. It is physically and mentally hard work, often in smelly apartments and alleys in forgotten corners of the city with desperate people. But they will share their pot of food back at the station and stay up late sharing stories...really wonderful folks.

One of many tragedies from 9/11 was the New York medics and firefighters lost trying to save lives during the tragedy. The NYC medical director who was the on-scene coordinator gave a talk at a medical conference I attended in 2002: it was an amazing and moving story of people doing their best in an impossible situation.

Nick said...

Dave - If more people had all the personal experience you have of seeing nurses and paramedics doing an exhausting, demanding and highly-skilled job day in and day out they might appreciate them better and not treat them so badly.

I saw a wonderful TV programme about the NY firefighters and how devastated they were by the loss of so many dedicated colleagues.

Baino said...

I couldn't find any stats on attacks on staff in Sydney hospitals but I know that St Vincents . . a huge teaching hospital here has a special isolation ward for Crystal Meth (ice) users because they're so violent. My mother was a nurse and you're right, they do it as a vocation not so much a career due to the lousy pay and hours.

And I agree whole heartedly with Nicole about traffic not pulling over for emergency vehicles, Sydney siders are particularly bad at this! A recent Parliamentary enquiry noted that there are about 50 incidences a day in Sydney alone where drivers deliberately obstruct ambulances or even tailgate them to help them pass through blocked traffic!

Medbh said...

They don't get paid enough, either.
I would add teachers to that list, Nick.
Children are becoming increasingly violent in the classroom these days.

Wisewebwoman said...

This post highlights how the world is getting crazier, Nick and I'm a firm believer in separate holding pens for the drug and alcohol addicted, they should not be set loose in the general hospital areas but restrained until detoxified with addiction specialists.
Addicts are far too unpredictable and could seriously hurt or kill the medical staff.

Anonymous said...

Nurses and medics should be able to feel safe at work. They do such a tough and unforgiving job. Well said, Nick.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

My brother works in Stobhill, the worst hsopital in Scotland. As he's a male nurse he often gets to deal with the rowdier drug-addled patients. Somebody went for him with a used needle once. If my mother knew what he faces every day she'd have a canary.

I'm sorry your comment on my site got lost til this evening. Wordpress isn't alerting me any more of new commenters in my moderation queue. It's nothing personal, I promise!

Nick said...

Baino - Wow, a special isolation ward for crystal meth, that must be a serious problem. I've never heard of special isolation here. And I really can't understand the mind-set of people who deliberately obstruct ambulances.

Medbh - You're right, teachers have a tough time nowadays as well. One reason my mum retired early from teaching was increasing discipline problems.

www - Separate holding pens and detox sounds drastic but maybe necessary. It might come to that in the UK if the violence gets worse.

Hulla - Yes, feeling safe should be the number one requirement of any job. Constantly feeling threatened is no way to work.

Sam - I really admire people like your brother who stick with it in the face of such uncalled-for aggression. And don't worry about the lost comment, shit happens!

Fate's Granddaughter said...

I am always horrified to hear such stories, but getting less and less surprised due to how often they come up.

There's nothing 'old-fogeyish' about thinking people should treat others with respect and dignity. Perhaps the fact that we would even qualify it as being so says something about society.

Nick said...

FG - You're right, why does it automatically sound old fogeyish? But there seem to be a lot of people who just laugh at the idea of being responsible for anything but their own pleasure and comfort.

Mudflapgypsy said...

Nurses don't get paid enough -
A/ Money
B/ Respect

I wouldn't do their job, it is a vocation and those who undertake it are special people, I think.

I am not a nurse nor do i have a family member in the medical profession. I have had need of their services a few times though.

Nick said...

Muddy - Indeed, not many people have what it takes to do such a difficult job, so I'm thankful for those who do. My niece Lucy is currently training to be a nurse so she'll be there at the sharp end pretty soon. I think she'll make it, she's pretty tough and unflappable.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Nurses are nearly all heroes. They do work that most people wouldn't dream of doing and should all be sainted.

I would hope there are serious karmic penalties for those who abuse these magnificent people.

Nick said...

Heart, I like to think that people who spend their lives abusing and belittling others end up miserable and alone in their old age. I think quite a lot of them do. You definitely reap what you sow.