In the last couple of years increasing numbers of ambulance workers and doctors in the Czech Republic have been physically attacked by aggressive patients. In an effort to combat this disturbing phenomenon, Czech hospitals have begun introducing special measures to prevent such attacks. On Thursday, Prague's Vinohrady hospital presented a model of a new type of high-security doctor's consulting room.
The Vinohrady hospital in Prague 10 has introduced a prototype of a safe consulting room, which provides doctors with various means of protecting themselves from aggressive and violent patients: the furniture in the room is bolted to the floor, chairs are made of plastic, there is an emergency exit for the doctor and a button to push alerting security, if the worst comes to the worst. Furthermore, the glass in the windows is protected against smashing. Thanks to sponsors, Vinohrady hospital will open three such consulting rooms in May. According to hospital statistics, doctors who work in its admissions departments are most in danger. Director Marie Alusikova describes the evolution of this idea.
"The reason we introduced it was because of an attack on our colleague, the psychiatrist Dr Hynek, who was attacked by a patient with a machete and almost died. That was just one of a series of attacks over the last two years. We wrote an appeal which we sent to all the hospitals in the country and immediately got a lot of support. Our greatest achievement is that the problem has really been discussed seriously."
The issue of aggressive patients made it as far as the government this week. However, a proposal to increase penalties for attacking emergency rescuers was rejected, because a new criminal bill is planned which would concern not only medical staff but also teachers and social workers.
One issue of dispute is the question of who should deal with drunk people, who are relatively likely to be aggressive. Doctors say this should be the responsibility of the police, who they say are reluctant to pick them up. Adding to the problem, policemen are not allowed to ride in ambulances with doctors. However Dr Zdenek Schwarz, the head of the Prague ambulance service, says he can understand the police's position.
"The problem is the police can't always be there, because if we called the police in every risky situation, where violence is possible, they wouldn't have the capacity to become involved; there are so many such situations. When something does happen we call the police, and - after the latest bad incidents - they have been trying to help us more."
Dr Schwarz points out the need for central admission points at Prague's biggest hospitals, where security could be concentrated and therefore more efficient. The creators of the Vinohrady hospital initiative also say that doctors themselves could prevent unpleasant situations by improving their own attitude and behaviour.