Towards the end of May, a patient attendant allegedly harassed a senior gyne-oncologist at the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. It required hospital management and police to intervene.

The hospital did not file an official complaint. However, this is not an isolated case. Cases of abuse and negligence between patient or attendants and health workers is common, says hospital staff.

When worried patients or attendants and stressed or frustrated health officials who see three or four times the number of patients than they are supposed to meet, clashes do happen.

The hospital reported 17 such cases between 2017 and 2018. “The number of actual cases could be much higher. Most cases like verbal harassment are not reported,” said an official.

The hospital’s legal officer said that most of the cases are not reported because of the hassle. “After an incident is reported to the hospital administration, enquiries and investigations are carried out.”

This is one of the challenges the hospital confronts every day.

The recent incident happened around 2:30pm at the hospital’s Chamber five of the Gynecology and obstetrics out-patient department.

According to hospital officials, the patient with kidney problem was discharged from the medical ward on May 26. She was instructed to consult the gynaecologist with a biopsy report.

The next day, the patient’s sister gave the reports to the doctor. The doctor stapled the report and after checking, informed the woman that the biopsy report was missing.

Hospital officials said that the woman claimed that she brought all the reports and then started howling in the chamber.

The hospital’s legal officer, who was called at the chamber after the staff and security personnel at the department couldn’t handle the situation, said the woman has grabbed the doctor by her sleeve and pressuring her to produce the report.

“The doctor was harassed for more than an hour,” he said. “There were many patients waiting so we offered her to go to the office and sort things out, but she insisted on producing the report immediately and approval from the doctor for her sister to go ahead with a kidney transplant.”

The legal officer said the woman kept crying, held the doctor’s feet and kept asking how long they would have to wait. When hospital staff tried to explain, she started recording and threatened to post on social media.

As the situation was out of control, police were involved. However, the legal officer said that the hospital did not file any complaint despite her offensive and obnoxious conduct towards the doctors, nurses, and other staff.

“We all went to the histopathology lab to confirm if she has collected the report. The doctor was already there looking for the report herself,” he said.

The biopsy report was yet to be processed and was not ready.

The lab technicians who witnessed the incident said that the woman was aggressive and crying and was not ready to listen to anyone. “We were scared to intervene because she was pushing the security guards.”

A medical lab technician with the hospital said that the actual turnaround time for a biopsy report is about 10 days. However, these days it takes about 14 days because of a huge number of samples and a limited number of pathologists.

Meanwhile, the patient’s husband said that he came to know about what happened from the hospital. “As a sister, whatever she did, she must have done out of frustration.”

It has been about five months that his wife was diagnosed with kidney failure. She was recently admitted to the hospital for over a month.

“It is difficult when you have to attend to your patient for months especially when you don’t get leave from work,” the husband said. “We are asked to consult doctors to get approval for her kidney transplant on Wednesday and the Wednesdays never end. I don’t understand why it’s taking longer to refer her for a transplant when we have a donor,” he said.

The sister volunteered to donate her kidney.

He said that right from when the patients step into the hospital until they are discharged, there are several procedures that frustrate the patients and their attendants.

The lab report has come and the doctor said the patient could undergo the kidney transplant. “But the hospital’s current budget is exhausted and she has to wait.”

“We were asked to wait until July and if something happens to the patient during the time, who will take the risk? As a kidney patient, she is suffering from all sorts of ailment,” he said. “Here I am worrying every second and the calls from the hospital, police and media after the incident adds to the frustration,” he said.

Ningjay Wangchcuk, 21, a security personnel at the hospital for the last six months said that it was regular for them to have people verbally abuse them. “It feels bad when people yell and abuse you, but we don’t have a choice then to do our job.”

“We are now used to it. But, there are people who are also nice and respects us for doing our job,” he said.

Another security personnel, Lhaden, said it is hard to convince people, be it not allowing the entry without visiting cards or asking attendants not to crowd wards.

“We deal with many people every day and there are always some who wants to have things their way,” she said.

“Most of the time, we think that they are in some kind of pressure since they are in the hospital and don’t take it to heart what they say to us. But, it does affect you when you are having a bad day.”

Dechen Tshomo