‘Every week an incident’: Increased aggression towards covid test centre personnel

‘Every week an incident’: Increased aggression towards covid test centre personnel
Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

Healthcare workers at Covid-19 test centres in Flanders are experiencing an increase in patient aggression, according to an internal survey by Domus Medica.

“It mainly concerns verbal aggression, but that also has a big impact,” Wim Verhoeven, chairman of the Antwerp North GP Centre, told De Standaard.

The survey found that more than 70% of test centres are experiencing increased aggression, with 16% of centres also reporting cases of physical aggression. In 13%, police intervention was even necessary.

Stijn Festraets of the Mechelen guard post, which was established three years ago to protect health staff, told De Standaard that he regularly hears from colleagues that patients are becoming aggressive.

“Usually it’s verbal, but I also have a colleague from Leuven who had an aggressive patient in the practice,” Festraets said.

“The man in question got so angry that he started throwing furniture around. When they called the police, they refused to come because the practice was a private building. Fortunately, the colleague was able to calm the man down in the end with the help of other colleagues.”

A Covid-19 testing centre at UZA. Photo by Helen Lyons/The Brussels Times

Verbal aggression is more common, as the fourth wave of the coronavirus “has emotions running high,” Festraets explained. “Many people come for a test, both with and without a code, and then arguments sometimes arise. There are enough staff to handle them but it makes a deep impression on [the morale of] our people.”

Rising impatience

Verhoeven also observed an increase in incidents: “Something happens every week. Because we want to be corona-proof in the waiting rooms, people first have to fill in a form to indicate whether they have symptoms or not. After that, they are told where and when they can be helped. This leads to a lot of frustration, cursing and insults. But we really have to prevent sick people from congregating and infecting each other.”

At the test centre in Antwerp at Wilrijkse Plein (which has since been closed) the atmosphere was especially tense before the summer because so many people needed tests for travel plans.

“The government’s communication was also not very clear, so that didn’t help,” said Tom Van de Vreken of Ziekenhuis Netwerk Antwerpen.

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There are test points in three hospitals in that network, the largest centre being in Middelheim where 360 tests are carried out per day.

The organisation that conducted the survey asks people to be understanding when there are long waiting times or difficult situations in the test centres and the waiting posts.

“Many colleagues have been in the front line for almost two years,” said Chairman Roel Van Giel. “We understand the frustration about the complexity of the system, but aggression is never a solution.”

Care providers are asked to report every act of violence to the national reporting point of the Order of Physicians who wants those who commit acts of violence against caregivers to appear before the criminal court, saying “any form of aggression against healthcare providers and support staff is unacceptable.”

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