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Study finds 4 in 10 healthcare workers dismiss molest and sexual requests as abuse, ‘rationalising’ these as part of job

SINGAPORE — About four in 10 healthcare workers do not consider being molested at work a form of abuse, while a significant proportion of these workers also feel the same way about physical assault and people uttering vulgarities or making discriminatory comments towards them.

These were findings from a recently released study, which also found that workers had, to some extent, normalised and rationalised such abuse and harassment as “being part of their jobs”.

The study, published on Friday (March 17), was done by a tripartite workgroup comprising representatives from the Ministry of Health (MOH), the public healthcare clusters, community care partners, private healthcare providers and the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union.

It was formed last April to lead a national effort to prevent the abuse and harassment of healthcare workers in the public, private and community sectors.

One other finding from its study was that a third of all healthcare workers had seen or experienced abuse or harassment at least once a week, with frontline healthcare workers such as pharmacists or nurses more likely to experience such abuse.

For example, more than half (55 per cent) of pharmacists had seen or experienced abuse or harassment at least once a week.

This may be because pharmacists are often the last point of contact with patients or next-of-kin before they are discharged from hospital wards or specialist outpatient clinics.

On average, healthcare workers reported that the abuse or harassment they had witnessed or experienced came from:

  • Patients (41 per cent)
  • Patients’ caregivers or visitors (28 per cent)
  • Colleagues or peers (18 per cent)
  • Supervisors or managers (13 per cent)

The workgroup engaged more than 3,000 healthcare workers and more than 1,500 members of the public through surveys and focus-group discussions in the second half of last year for this research.

Speaking at an engagement session with National Healthcare Group employees on Friday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that such abusive behaviour is unfair to healthcare workers whose profession is centred around care.

“It is also unfair to the majority of the members of the public who are understanding and respectful to healthcare workers, because then, a disproportionate amount of time is always spent on handling the few abuse cases at the expense of those who are appreciative and understanding,” he added.


1. The study found that abuse and harassment was prevalent across all healthcare settings.

  • More than two in three healthcare workers said that they had witnessed, or personally experienced, abuse or harassment in the past year
  • A third of all healthcare workers witnessed, or personally experienced, abuse or harassment at least once a week

2. MOH said in a press release on Friday that frontline healthcare workers such as pharmacists, patient service associates and nurses were also more likely to experience abuse and harassment.

3. The most common forms of such abuse were:

  • Shouting
  • Demeaning comments
  • Threats by patients and caregivers to file complaints or take legal action against healthcare workers

4. Physical assault was less commonly reported: 4 per cent of healthcare workers said that they had witnessed or experienced physical assault in the last year, compared to 46 per cent who said that people shouted at them or had seen such incidents.

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