Indian national, Pillai Shyam Kumar Sadashivan, 47, was sentenced to seven months’ jail with three strokes of the cane, for the two counts.
Despite being sexually harassed, the professional nurse continued her home care service—to look after the sick woman’s health. Nonetheless, she was traumatised and sought counselling afterwards as she could not return to her nursing job.
The case also highlights how vulnerable professional private nurses can be as they live in their patient’s home and brings to light the pressing need to address protection measures for home-based private nurses.
Patients’ homes should be treated as professional environmentsThe commonly known general duties of a private nurse include monitoring the vital signs of patients, administering medication, as well as helping to carry out treatments such as dialysis.
In reality, however, their responsibilities extend beyond that: patients might need help with their daily activities, such as eating, going to the toilet, and taking walks. In addition, a major part of their role is to provide emotional support for their patients, especially among seniors who require company.
Employing a private nurse to provide care at home allows patients to stay in a familiar environment. However, Singapore is facing a constant challenge, whereby the patient’s home is often disregarded as a professional environment. This translates to a diminished amount of respect being received, compared to being at the hospital.
Sexual assaults are rare; however, employers hold expectations that nurses should perform duties beyond their job scope. Some local or foreign private nurses may find themselves treated as domestic helpers.
It is not uncommon to hear of home care nurses asked to clean, cook or even look after their employers’ children, claimed Mr Julian Koo, co-founder of home care agency, Jaga-Me.
Others may face physical and verbal abuse, or be caught in the middle of their patients’ domestic issues. Stressful situations could also cause family members of the patients (or sometimes the patients themselves) to act inappropriately, targeting the nurses for harassment or abuse.
Roles of caregiving agencies to protect nursesTo prevent unpleasant situations, caregiving agencies do play a huge role in providing the comfort in working environment among private nurses.
This is important especially when the Ministry of Health (MOH) is aiming to provide 10,000 home care places by 2020—as of April this year, there are 7,500 home care places in Singapore. As of last year, Singapore has more than 40,000 nurses—with 10,000 working in the private sector; including private clinics and hospitals. Nonetheless, it is unclear how many private nurses are involved in home care.
Relevant stakeholders have urged that standards should be imposed on agencies recruiting private nurses.
Currently, not all agencies have standard operating procedures to deal with complaints of abuse or harassment, highlighted K. Thanaletchimi, president of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union.
Adequate training for nurses on their scope of duties or what constitutes abuse should also be provided, she emphasised.
Mr Patrick Tay, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower agreed, stating that freelance nurses without agency support particularly, should be aware of their rights against perpetrators of abuse.
He suggested that agencies should establish guidelines for the clients to follow, as well as addressing expectations of both parties during a meeting prior to the job offer. The scope of nurses’ services should be spelled out in contracts to let the clients understand that anything else are done on goodwill basis of the nurses. MIMS
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