Barely a year has passed since Lim Se-won, a psychiatrist at Kanguk Samsung Hospital, died after a patient stabbed him abruptly. An orthopedic specialist has just suffered an attack from a patient, prompting the medical community to call for effective measures to contain assaults against doctors at hospitals.
At around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, an orthopedic surgeon seeing a patient at a university hospital in Nowon-gu, Seoul, had his left thumb cut off by a man who wielded a sharp object after breaking into the doctor’s room.
The surgeon, who was the only hand specialist at the hospital, was transferred to Hanyang University Hospital to receive surgery to reconnect his finger.
Still smarting from the Lim Se-won incident, the medical community expressed shock over the latest attack. The university hospital, where the orthopedic surgeon worked, said it was all the more frustrating because the hospital has taken various measures to secure the safety of its medical workers.
“We have set up a hotline connecting to emergency 112 Center and Nowon Police Station if violence occurs at the hospital. We’ve also been operating a security center within the emergency room, but an unexpected incidence occurred at a doctor’s room,” an official at the university hospital said.
Although the hospital had step-by-step safety guidelines, staff could not deal with a sudden situation where a patient rushed in without an appointment, the official went on to say. The attacker barged in the doctor’s room when the doctor was seeing another patient, which made it difficult for the hospital to respond, he added.
Critics said the government’s measures for a safe patient care environment, taken after the death of psychiatrist Lim, are mostly ineffective.
The revised law levies weighted penalties for assaulting a medical professional not only in ER but in a general treatment room. However, the law is ineffective because the authorities often mitigate punishment for reasons of the insanity of offenders or the influence of alcohol, the Korean Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (KAOS) said.
Under the revised Medical Service Act, a person who attacks and injures a medical professional is subject to seven years' imprisonment or a penalty of more than 10 million won ($8,510) and less than 70 million won. If the injury is severe, the offender can face imprisonment of three to five years. In the event of death, the offender faces life imprisonment or less than five years’ imprisonment.
“Violence against healthcare professionals at hospitals has gone too far to be tolerated,” KAOS said. “Some doctors even joke that they should probably read the character in the patient’s face to protect themselves.”
KAOS emphasized that those who attack doctors should face stern punishment, regardless of their state of mental health or intoxication.
“Attackers should be detained for an investigation and punished by a strong law that is as strict as the Act on Aggravated Punishment of Specific Crimes,” it said. “Even if the victim opposes the prosecution of the offender, assault against physicians should be punished.”
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