They are increasingly falling prey to attacks: Ariane Kaufman, Carmen Vonmont and Maximilian Grob (left to right) from the USZ.
An elderly man takes his wife in an emergency. During dinner he suddenly felt severe chest pain. The woman is immediately welcomed by the nurses at the entrance of the hospital. Due to Corona’s measures, her husband has to wait outside. After a few minutes, he begins to get restless and imagines scenarios in his head. He keeps knocking on emergency room windows, desperately wanting to gain access. When a nurse tried to calm him down, he flared up.
Carmen Vonmont (43), a specialist in emergency care at the University Hospital Zurich (USZ), talks about the matter when she visits Blick. Vonmont says, “Even before Corona, there was regular aggression towards health workers. At the beginning of the crisis, the situation improved for a short time – probably because hardly anyone was allowed to enter the hospital due to the harsh corona regime. “But since the measures have been eased, we have seen a steady increase in cases.”
a major factor in leaving the profession
Internal reports of aggression increased by 120 percent in 2021 compared to 2020. “On average, we have to intervene three or four times a day,” confirmed Maximilian Grob (26), deputy chief of the security service at the USZ.
Males are the aggressors in 60 percent of all cases. Most of the time it is “merely” an insult or an insult. But healthcare workers also have to contend with scuffles: doctors and nurses are scratched, pushed, spitting, hit or caught. In some cases, employees were injured to the extent that they required medical attention. Patients or relatives who are violent should expect criminal prosecution.
Senior doctor Ariane Kaufman (42) in the USZ emergency has also been bitten by patients. “Besides the already high burden, we have a lot to listen to in the emergency room. We isolate ourselves and don’t take everything too seriously, otherwise our job will become even more challenging.”
Aggression towards employees is a major factor in leaving the profession. “The problem is devastating for our profession. Pierre-Andre Wagner (61) of the Swiss Professional Association of Nursing Women and Nurses (SBK) warns that staff shortages are rapidly increasing, so strikes at the workplace are not conducive. “We are extremely concerned.”
Alcohol and drugs play a role
The USZ is far from this problem alone. Other Swiss emergency stations have had similar experiences. “We have the number of serious incidents in double digits every year. Sometimes we experience bullying or threats two to three times a day, » says Robert Seiber (64), chief physician of the emergency room at St. Gallen’s Cantonal Hospital. The topic is of particular concern in the evenings and weekends when drugs and alcohol are involved.
In the Inselspital burn, the security service had to be called 1,600 times last year to keep invasive patients under control. This year the trend is increasing. But this does not only affect the health workers of the hospital. Employees of psychiatric institutions, residential homes, medical systems or rescue services, and Spitex are also affected.
Switzerland-wide data on attacks on health workers is not available. “Aggression in acute care units only became an issue in the early 2000s,” says Professor Dirk Richter (59) of Bern University of Applied Sciences. He researches aggression. Hospitals did not take the necessary preventive measures for a long time, which is why the problem has worsened, if not improved.
“Precisely because the data isn’t accurate, it’s hard to say how much or whether aggression has increased,” Richter says. In recent years the concept of both violence and personal sensitivity have changed and become an issue. So it is possible that the number of cases has not increased, but the number of reports.
Corona doubt sparked
However, according to the industry, in the last two and a half years, Corona has played an important role in increasing aggression. Many treatments have been postponed during the pandemic. It’s jammed now. The USZ emergency is designed for 20,000 cases per year. Employees are currently operating more than double. Not everyone shows understanding for the resulting wait times for emergencies, and caregivers in particular find anger and frustration.
«We give our best every day. I wish the population understood that we had to triage between acute and less acute cases, » says emergency nurse Vonmont. Apart from impatience, relatives were not allowed to accompany their loved ones in case of an emergency due to Corona. “In these cases, fear and anxiety can lead to aggressive behavior,” says Vonmont.
And the gap between supporters and skeptics of corona measures also causes explosives in emergency stations. FMH Doctors Association: “Attitudes for or against protective measures were sometimes associated with strong emotion and sometimes presented with great enthusiasm.”