Egyptian doctors and nurses from more than 40 hospitals, including one of the country’s largest have refused to see patients until the government does something to address a recent surge in hospital violence.
The massive strike comes after an incident this month where a violent family feud spilled over into the Mahalla Public Hospital ER:
“When one of the two families learned that one of their own had died, they stormed into the hospital to take revenge on the other. By then, the doctors were examining the injured victim. They kicked out the doctors and the nurses and killed the patient before the rest of the family joined in to continue the fight in the hospital’s other rooms,” the Egypt Independent reports.
Mahalla is the biggest, most technologically equipped hospital in the governorate of Gharbiya.
The head of Mahalla said private security guards were hired after he was stabbed last March by the family of a man who thought doctors didn’t do enough to save him. During this time period, clashes between Christians and Muslims, and Hosni Mubarak supporters and opposition (the early stages of the Egyptian Revolution) were gaining momentum. The level of violence at the hospital caused the company to pull out.
The revolution spawned a new government and the country's first elections in decades, but the move toward stability has done little for the doctors and nurses who still face violent threats from the public.
Dr. Mohamed Sharshar, deputy health minister in Gharbiya, says medical workers have instructions to call security when violence breaks out and that security will respond immediately. Staff say police who show up often say they weren’t “given orders to handle the situation.” And hospital workers’ rights groups say perpetrators go mostly unpunished.
Earlier this month, the Egyptian Medical Syndicate met with health officials to demand the government add police to hospitals, develop a central control room to monitor attacks, and create a hospital violence task force.
A member of the Muslim Brotherhood Party says legislation to set up a hospital police force and crack down on people who bring violence to medical facilities has been introduced.
Egypt’s ER nurses still go to work, but for now, instead of seeing patients, they stay “clustered into a safe backroom.”
photo of the Omar Makram field hospital in Tahrir on December 19, 2011/Gigi Ibrahim