In March last year, the South Korean government announced an ambitious plan to improve nurses’ working conditions. The Health and Welfare Ministry said it would revoke licenses from perpetrators, be it a doctor or nurse, who molests rookie nurses. The government also decided to operate "nurse human rights center" for reporting and giving counseling on "taeum" (bullying) practice.
About one year has passed, but critics say little has improved at nurses’ workplaces. Gathering news based on complaints made by nurses, The Dong-A Ilbo learned that few of the government’s measures have been implemented. Unlike the government’s announcement, perpetrators or bullies do not have their licenses actually revoked at present. Eleven months have passed since the measures were announced, but a revision of the Healthcare Act, which includes related provisions, has not been approved by the parliamentary Health and Welfare Committee yet.
Nurse human rights center is not functional at all. When the ministry announced that it would open and operate the center at the Korean Nurses Association in March last year, the association already had a counseling center in place. It means the center has only been renamed. Since then, the government has not provided any notable assistance to the center. “Both senior nurses and junior nurses are the association’s members,” an official of the association said. “Since it is difficult to ensure objectivity, let alone conducting proper investigation of the situation, we requested the government to establish an independent center, but the government has not accepted.”
Critics also say that a trainer nurse system, which is meant to ease nurses’ workload to prevent bullying, has had little impact as well. Trainer nurses will be deployed at national and public hospitals on a trial basis beginning this year. Since about 94 percent of hospitals nationwide are private, the measure has little impact. More than anything, each nurse has to take care of more than four patients in Korea, which is more than double the comparable number in advanced countries such the U.S. and Japan. As lack of nursing staff leads to poor working conditions, which in turn spawns the culture of bullying, working conditions should be improved before anything, nurses say.
In the wake of suicide by a 20-something nurse about one year after a similar incident, it may not be proper to hold the practice of bullying and substandard working conditions at hospitals solely responsible for the tragedy. Whenever such an incident happens, authorities make a fuss out of it and announce a flurry of measures, but they become oblivious over time, which is a deep-rooted problem in our society. This may be the real reason behind young nurses taking their own lives. Korea should correct such an ill before it gets too late and loses more lives.