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Severe penalties for harassing healthcare staff

We thank Dr Desmond Wai for his letter, “Crack down on verbal abuse of healthcare workers” (Feb 28). We agree that abuse of our healthcare workers, regardless of its form and nature, is not acceptable.

While COVID-19 has increased anxiety and frustration among patients and their families, it should not be an excuse to harass or hurl abuse at healthcare workers. They are doing their utmost to provide the best care to all their patients.

Let us all work together to provide them a conducive and safe environment to care for patients.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and our public healthcare institutions adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards staff abuse and harassment, and will not hesitate to take appropriate action when such incidents arise.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), all individuals are protected from harassment. In fact, offences against public sector healthcare workers in the course of their duties are dealt with more severely, with fines of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months or both.

Under POHA, victims may also obtain a protection order restraining their perpetrators from further acts of harassment or sue them for damages.

To protect their well-being, our public healthcare institutions have established escalation processes for staff who are verbally or physically harassed, including referral to security officers on-site or reporting to the police.

Front-line healthcare staff are also trained to assess and de-escalate potential conflict in the first instance and manage abusive situations. There are also helplines for affected staff, anonymised counselling support services and peer support programmes for staff.

The best remedy to achieve a safe working environment is still for all to treat one another with respect, forbearance and graciousness.

Lavinia Low

Director, Manpower Planning and Strategy Division

Ministry of Health

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