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Beijing volunteers grapple with doctor-patient rows

Xinhua, April 9, 2014 Adjust font size:

A program in Beijing using volunteer intermediates between doctors and patients is China's latest attempt to ease tensions in the consulting room.

Styled as a volunteer program, the "Guardian Angel" initiative will recruit medical workers, patients and university students to provide services including hospital guidance, psychological intervention and the spread of health knowledge, said Feng Guosheng, head of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Hospitals (BMAH).

The program will iron out tensions between doctors and patients by building mutual trust through a communicative process. "Patients will understand doctors better after talking with our volunteers," Feng said.

The project, across 21 hospitals in the capital, will recruit more than 1,500 volunteers this year to serve in a one-year term, said Wei Jiang, of the BMAH committee of the Communist Party of China.

Cases of assaults on doctors have attracted much attention recently, as frustration, misunderstandings and dissatisfaction trigger violence. On March 5, a doctor at Chaozhou Central Hospital in south China's Guangdong Province was publicly humiliated by the relatives of a patient who died under his care. In the same month, two government officials were punished for an attack on a nurse at Nanjing Stomatological Hospital in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province. In February, a doctor from northeast China's Heilongjiang Province was beaten to death by a patient.

Authorities at various levels have been at pains to assuage public ire. In January, Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court ruled that hospitals should bring the criminal law to bear on those who disrupt order in medical institutions. The government of the northeastern city of Harbin announced similar policy in February, and the local public health department promised more help for medical institutions and staff.

Meanwhile, the National Health and Family Planning Commission released a circular on Feb. 20 banning doctors from taking "red envelopes", or gifts of money from patients from May 1, mandating what was once a moral issue.

Guo Xinbao, director of the Beijing Volunteer Federation, sees Beijing taking the lead for other localities struggling with the problematic situations at health care facilities. "It is a good way to halt current medical disputes and ensure social stability," he said, promising to reward those volunteers who perform well.

"Anyone who does not abide by the rules will be eliminated from the program," he said.

Han Meng, a volunteer at the capital's Institute of Pediatrics, sees the project as a way to rebuild the image of doctors, tarnished by various scandals. "I believe that it will help understanding," he said.

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