Tripartite Workgroup Releases Recommendations to Prevent Healthcare Worker Abuse and Harassment

HSEU urges workers and members of the public to report incidents in support of the workgroup’s recommendations.
By Nicolette Yeo 17 Mar 2023
Tripartite Workgroup Healthcare worker abuse.jpg

The Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU) welcomed a proposal to have a standardised zero-tolerance policy against the abuse and harassment of healthcare workers.

The union was responding to the Tripartite Workgroup (TWG) for the Prevention of Abuse and Harassment of Healthcare Workers’ key recommendation made on 17 March 2023.

The workgroup was established in April 2022 to coordinate a national effort to prevent such abuse and harassment of healthcare workers.

It comprises representatives from the union, the Ministry of Health (MOH), public healthcare clusters, community care partners and private healthcare providers.

“HSEU strongly supports the TWG’s recommendations as we have zero tolerance towards any form of abuse or harassment on our healthcare workers,” said HSEU President and TWG representative K Thanaletchimi.

She added that the union was instrumental in forming the workgroup, having mooted the initiative in 2018.

The workgroup also shared other recommendations and findings on the same day.

Key Findings and Recommendations

Since its inception, the TWG has engaged over 3,000 healthcare workers and 1,500 members of the public.

Based on their findings, over two in three healthcare workers had witnessed or personally experienced abuse or harassment in the past year.

Half of those workers reported seeing or experiencing such incidents once a week.

Frontline workers are also more likely to be victims of abuse and harassment.

TWG also revealed that the most common forms of abuse include shouting, demeaning comments, and patient and caregiver threats to file complaints or take legal action against workers.

Such incidents are often under-reported as workers sometimes empathise with patients. This leads them to accept the abuse as part of their jobs.

Zero Tolerance Policy

The workgroup suggested a three-pronged Protect, Prevent and Promote framework to ensure healthcare workers get the protection they deserve.

The framework aims to build a supportive culture where workers feel safe to work and confident enough to report abuse and harassment.

Recommendations include clearly defining abuse and harassment, implementing an effective reporting and escalation protocol, and creating a supportive reporting culture.

To make enforcement more effective, the TWG also recommends that abusers face clear consequences for their actions.

These include issuing warnings to the abusers and disengaging them by refusing unreasonable requests or barring them from entering the premises.

The workgroup also proposed that healthcare institutions trained their employees to defuse such situations and called for the public healthcare sector to take the lead.

MOH will share more details on the implementation of the policy in the second half of the year.

To enhance the public respect for healthcare workers, MOH Holdings will launch a national public education campaign in the second half of 2023 to promote a culture of trust and respect between healthcare workers, patients and caregivers.

Ms Thanaletchimi said: “We are glad that there will be more support for healthcare institutions, including hospitals, to take a firmer stance against any acts of abuse or harassment.

“We believe that the recommendations will create greater awareness, especially amongst members of the public, and provide a better work environment for our healthcare workers who deserve to perform their jobs with dignity, respect and, importantly, without fear.”

She hopes these recommendations will encourage workers and members of the public alike to report abuse and harassment cases.

She also urged more healthcare institutions to work with the union to implement the recommendations.

Union Makes Additional Calls

To provide more support for healthcare workers, Ms Thanaletchimi also called for periodic reviews to assess the effectiveness of the measures.

She also urged information on managing recalcitrant perpetrators to be shared within and among institutions.

The union leader also emphasised the need to address internal workplace bullying by colleagues and strongly urged workers to report such incidents.

Ms Thanaletchimi also highlighted that the Labour Movement’s Healthcare Academy is currently curating programmes to train healthcare workers to manage abuse and harassment more effectively.

The academy is an initiative by HSEU in partnership with NTUC Learning Hub and NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute).