More healthcare workers in public institutions getting abused or harassed

There were about 1,400 abuse and harassment cases reported as of end November 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The number of healthcare workers in public institutions who were abused or harassed has risen over the past four years.

There were about 1,400 abuse and harassment cases reported as at the end of November 2021, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Jan 10), in a written parliamentary reply to Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson).

This was up from 1,300 cases in 2020, 1,200 cases in 2019 and 1,080 cases in 2018.

Mr Ong said the rising trend could be due to the increase in patients seen in these public healthcare institutions, coupled with rising expectations from patients and their family members for high-quality care and service from healthcare staff.

Covid-19 safety precautions such as hospital visitation limits may also have resulted in heightened frustration for a handful of patients' families, he added.

In a separate reply, Mr Ong said more public healthcare workers are using counselling services and peer support schemes, adding that this indicates a need to better support the mental well-being of staff, as well as rising awareness of support measures available.

In 2019, such services were used around 330 times. This increased to around 890 in 2020 and 1,080 in 2021.

Responding to questions on how Covid-19 has impacted resignations and recruitment of public healthcare workers, Mr Ong said that 1,500 doctors, nurses and allied health professionals resigned in the first half of 2021, a 4 per cent resignation rate.

While full-year data for 2021 is not yet available, the Ministry of Health (MOH) expects about 3,000 resignations for the year - roughly an 8 per cent attrition rate.

In 2018, 4,600 public healthcare workers resigned. This dipped to 3,700 in 2020.

"So resignations were generally on a downward trend before 2021," Mr Ong said.

Of the 1,500 who resigned in the first half of 2021, more than half were aged 30 to 39, he said. A quarter were aged 20 to 29 and the rest were 40 and above - roughly in line with the age profile of the public healthcare workforce.

On whether these staff stayed in the wider healthcare sector, Mr Ong said that based on self-declarations of registered nurses and allied health professionals, 90 per cent remained in the healthcare sector and less than 1 per cent went to other sectors. The rest were either not working, or overseas at the time.

As for recruitment, the number of newly recruited nurses and allied health professionals rose from 1,900 in 2018 to 2,300 in 2020. In the first half of 2021, there were about 1,300 new hires, slightly below the number of resignations.

"MOH is working closely with our public healthcare institutions to shore up recruitment, for both local and foreign staff, to augment the healthcare workforce," Mr Ong said.

"The Covid-19 crisis has stressed the system tremendously... Some of our good foreign staff were poached by other countries, some resigned, and recruitment of nurses, especially foreign nurses, has been challenging due to the strong international demand. That is the reality of the situation caused by the pandemic."

This is why Singapore has always emphasised the need to protect the healthcare system and not subject it to excessive stress and demands, he added.

"We don't take the position that let's open up all activities and let the healthcare system bear the brunt of it. Nor do we protect the healthcare system at all cost and subject the country to a severe social and border lockdown," he said.

"Our ability to take a middle path approach is the hallmark of a high trust society."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.