DOCTORS and nurses in Spain increasingly threatened by attacks from patients or their families are in some cases learning not to hit back, but at least to defend themselves.
Seen in the context of an attack by an axe-wielding man at a health centre in Fuenlabrada (Madrid) last Saturday, the move could be a wise one.
Three health workers were left with serious scalp injuries and amputated fingers as they tried to defend themselves from a 40-year-old Moroccan believed to have mental health problems.
In La Coruña (Galicia), doctors and nurses are taking practical steps to learn how to defend themselves against aggression.
The nursing union, SATSE, after years of requesting controlled access for health centres or security guards in the walk-in centres notorious for violent incidents, has organised a personal defence course there.
“The object is not physical towards the patient or aggressor but to teach medical staff to avoid verbal abuse and physical attack,” explained Felipe Meana of the course organisers, SKM Combat and Self Defence.
“What we are asked for most are ways to avoid being pushed around or being grabbed by their clothes.”
Patients and their families sometimes tended to take out their frustrations on the hospital itself and once they were outside nurses were an easy target, said Teresa Pereira, a nurse attending the La Coruña course.
Ana Fraile, another of the participants, agreed but the 21-year-old said confessed that she could not see herself fighting off an attacker inside the hospital.
“If a patient were to attack me, I think I would remain passive. I’ve a duty to provide health care, not aggression,” she said. “In the street it would be different and I’m not sure how I would react,” she conceded.