Why the Chinese are beating up and even killing their doctors
A weeping doctor was paraded round his hospital by an angry mob following one young man’s recent death
SHANGHAI - In most countries, proud parents are delighted when a son or daughter decides to become a doctor when they grow up. In China, such a choice is now a source of parental trepidation: medical professionals are increasingly being threatened, humiliated, attacked and occasionally murdered by their disgruntled patients.
According to figures from the China Hospital Association, there were, on average, 27.3 serious assaults on doctors and nurses per hospital in 2012, up 35 per cent from 2006.
The situation had become so severe by the end of 2013 that many hospitals had substantially beefed up security. Hospital guards were receiving emergency training on how to identify situations that could turn ugly, as well as how to mediate in clashes. A number of top healthcare institutions in Shanghai went as far as to announce that they might employ one guard for every 20 beds.
And yet 2014 is proving yet another stressful year for China’s medical professionals. In the latest reported incident of violence, a 32-year-old man in Sichuan province attacked a doctor when an initial CT scan failed to find anything wrong with his 89-year-old grandmother, who had been vomiting and seemingly lost her ability to speak.
Also this month, an incensed mob numbering more than 100 people paraded a terrified and weeping physician around a hospital in Guangdong province, apparently to shame him for the death of a 37-year-old man who had been admitted after excessive drinking.
February had witnessed equally extreme savagery. An enraged patient in Heilongjiang province pummelled to death an ear, nose and throat specialist with an iron bar. The next day, a doctor in Hebei was stabbed in the throat by a patient aggrieved by the outcome of a hernia operation.
In the same week, a pregnant nurse was repeatedly kicked in the face and body by a mother and daughter at a hospital in Zhejiang province when she asked them to “please wait a second” at registration.
At a Nanjing hospital, a government official and his wife battered a nurse when, due to a lack of beds, a male patient was temporarily admitted to the female-only ward where their daughter was being treated. The nurse, according to domestic media reports, may be partially paralysed as a result of her ordeal.
These incidents came despite the sentencing to death in January of 33-year-old Lian Enqing, who had killed his physician and injured two others after surgery performed on his nose left him in pain. Armed with a hammer and knife, Enqing burst into the consulting room of Dr. Wang Yunjie, 46, smashing him over the head and stabbing him multiple times.
This increasing violence against medical professionals in China is resulting in a great deal of societal soul-searching.
“There is evidence to suggest that people in general no longer view the medical profession with respect,” He Jingwei, assistant professor at the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, wrote in a recent opinion piece for China Daily. “Once widely respected, doctors are now suspected of violating medical ethics.”
Healthcare insiders believe the reasons for such negative public opinion range from hospital understaffing and high costs of medical care to widespread suspicion of corruption within the profession. Most doctors in China are paid as lowly civil servants – there is a widespread perception, therefore, that quality care requires hefty bribes, and a recent survey by China Youth Daily, which canvassed more than 250,000 people across the country, revealed that 66.8 per cent of Chinese patients do not trust doctors' diagnoses and treatments.
Not surprisingly, research shows that 76.7 per cent of Chinese doctors do not want their children to attend medical school.