Doctors' deaths spur call for new law

Doctors' deaths spur call for new law

Doctors' demise blamed on overwork

Surgeon and staff operate on a patient. (Photo via Samitivej Hospital)
Surgeon and staff operate on a patient. (Photo via Samitivej Hospital)

Medical networks have urged the government to roll out a law regulating working conditions for medical staff after the deaths of several doctors were linked to their heavy workloads and poor working environment.

Medical Council of Thailand (MCT) committee member Cherdchu Ariyasriwattana proposed Tuesday that the government draft a new law and establish a fund to provide compensation for medical staff in the event of injury, disability or death caused by their work.

He also called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to pay more attention to problems faced by medical staff that directly affect the health and livelihood of Thais.

Dr Cherdchu made the remarks during a meeting in Bangkok aimed at finding solutions to pressing concerns for medical professionals in the country.

The call for stepped-up legislation comes after Thapakorn Thongkua, a 30-year-old physician attached to a hospital in Buri Ram, died on May 14 after contracting dengue fever at the hospital.

His condition deteriorated and he later succumbed to the infection.

Dr Thapakorn's death drew heavy criticism from medical personnel, who said the heavy workload shouldered by doctors and nurses in public hospitals was a contributing factor in his death.

According to figures provided by the council, medical staff attached to state-run community and provincial hospitals nationwide work on average 80-120 hours a week, far exceeding the legal mandate.

Most nurses work 24-hour shifts due to a shortage of staff that cannot meet the demand from so many patients, critics say.

Dr Cherdchu said the Public Health Ministry is aware of the problems but its hands are tied. He cited a quota on how many civil servants it can employ imposed by the Office of the Civil Service Commission (OCSC).

Hospitals and medical staff are also finding their resources increasingly strained as the universal health coverage scheme has given rise to more patients but an insufficient budget, they say.

Dr Thapakorn is not the only medical staff member to have died recently due in part to overwork, said Orapan Methadilokkul, chairman of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center.

She said at least three more have also died, mostly due to the combined effect of contracting respiratory diseases linked to their poor working environment, and long working hours.

Teerawat Hemajutha, a physician at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine, said fatigue caused by heavy workloads can also cause many patients to receive substandard services from doctors and nurses.

Their relatively low pay leads many to quit their jobs for more lucrative positions with private health institutes, which critics say creates the risk of a looming "brain drain".

Meanwhile, permanent secretary for public health Sopon Mekthon said he has ordered the Bureau of Occupational and Environmental Diseases to gather information on the working hours and duties of medical personnel nationwide to find solutions.

He has also instructed the ministry to work on regulations that would provide some level of aid for medical staff who suffer injury, disability or death at work.

Also Tuesday, the cabinet approved 8,792 permanent civil servant positions over the next three years for nurses working under temporary contracts after the nurses threatened to quit in protest.

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