Re: Standing Committee on Health’s study on violence faced by healthcare workers
Dear Mr. Casey:
I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to submit recommendations for
consideration by the Standing Committee on Health (the Committee) as part of the study on violence
faced by healthcare workers.
The CMA is deeply concerned with the state of workplace safety in all health care settings, including
hospitals, long-term care, and home care settings. As in all experiences of violence, it is
unacceptable for healthcare workers to be victims of violence in the provision of care to patients.
While there is limited data nationally to understand the incidence of violence against healthcare
workers, anecdotal evidence suggests that these experiences are increasing in frequency and severity.
A 2010 survey of members of the College of Family Physicians of Canada shockingly found that, in
the previous month, nearly one-third of respondents had been exposed to some form of aggressive
behaviour from a patient (90%) or patient’s family (70%). The study concluded that “Canadian family
physicians in active practice are subjected to regular abuse from their patients or family members of
These concerns were brought to the CMA’s General Council in 2015, where our members passed a
resolution calling for:
“the federal government to amend the Criminal Code by making it a specific criminal offence to
assault health care providers performing their duties.”
The CMA is prioritizing initiatives that support physician health and wellness. Increasingly, there is a
recognition of the role of the workplace, primarily health care settings, and safe working conditions as
having an important influence of physician health and wellness.
1 Miedema BB, Hamilton R, Tatemichi S et al. Monthly incidence rates of abusive encounters for Canadian family physicians by patients and their families. Int J Family
Med. 2010; 2010: 387202. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3275928/pdf/IJFM2010-387202.pdf (accessed 2019 May 9).
Mr. Bill Casey
Addressing violence against providers in healthcare settings will require action from both federal and
provincial/territorial governments. In light of the above, the CMA respectfully submits the following
recommendations for consideration by the Committee in its study on violence against healthcare
1) The CMA recommends that the Committee on Health support the call to amend the Criminal
Code of Canada to introduce a new criminal offence for assault against a healthcare
provider performing their duty.
2) The CMA recommends that the Committee on Health support establishing monitoring of
violence against healthcare workers, that is consistent across jurisdictions, and have an active
role in responding appropriately to trends.
3) The CMA recommends that the Committee on Health support federal leadership in a pan-
Canadian approach to support workplace safety in healthcare settings, including
collaborating with the provinces and territories to improve violence prevention.
Finally, the CMA welcomes and supports the petition recently tabled in the House of Commons by
Dr. Doug Eyolfson, calling for the Minister of Health “to develop a pan-Canadian prevention strategy
to address growing incidents of violence against health care workers.”
In closing, the CMA is encouraged that the Committee is undertaking this study. I look forward to the
Committee’s report on this topic and the opportunity to collaborate on federal and
provincial/territorial action in this matter.
F. Gigi Osler, BScMed, MD, FRCSC
c.c.: Marilyn Gladu, M.P., Vice Chair, Standing Committee on Health
Don Davies, M.P., Vice Chair Standing Committee on Health
The CMA is pleased to have this opportunity to address the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women. As a professional organization with a leadership role in societal issues affecting health, it is both appropriate and important for the CMA to be actively involved in addressing the problems associated with violence. The extremely high incidence of abuse, the associated severe physical, mental and psychological health problems and the significant role played by physicians in recognizing and caring for victims make this a priority for organized medicine.
The CMA has significant experience and expertise in this field. In 1984, the CMA General Council passed a resolution stating:
"That Health and Welfare Canada and the Provincial Ministries of Health and Education
alert the Canadian public to the existence of family violence, including wife assault, child
abuse, and elder abuse, and to the services available which respond to these problems,
and that organized medicine (through such vehicles as professional journals, newsletters,
conferences and formal medical education) alert the physicians of Canada to the problem
and that all physicians learn to recognize the signs of family violence in their daily contact
with patients and undertake the care and management of victims using available
community resources." (Resolution #84-47)
The CMA calls the Panel's attention to four major areas of concern: Recognition and Treatment, Education and Training, Protocol Development and Research.
1. Recognition and Treatment:
Recognition includes acknowledging the existence and prevalence of abuse and identifying
victims of violence. Violence against women is clearly a health issue and one that should be given a very high priority. Statistics indicate that nearly one in eight Canadian women will be subject to spousal violence in her lifetime and that one in five will be a victim of sexual assault. Violence against women is a major determinant of both short -and long-term health problems including traumatic injury, physical and psychological illnesses, alcohol/drug addiction and death. Furthermore, although it is critically important to recognize that abuse crosses all racial and socio-economic boundaries, there are strong indications that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to abusive acts (e.g., pregnant, disabled and elderly women).
Recognition includes acknowledging and understanding the social context within which violence occurs. Violence is not an isolated phenomenon, but is part of the much broader issue of societal abuse of women.
Physicians are often the first point of contact for patients who have been abused physically, sexually, mentally and/or psychologically. They have a vital role to play in identifying victims and providing treatment and supportive intervention including appropriate referral. Abuse is not always readily apparent, however, and may go undetected for extended periods of time. Numerous studies have shown that both physicians and patients often fail to identify abuse as an underlying cause of symptoms. Such delays can result in devastating and sometimes fatal consequences for patients. Even in those cases where abuse is apparent, both physicians and patients often feel uncomfortable talking openly about the abuse and the circumstances surrounding it. It is the physician's role and responsibility to create a safe and supportive environment for the disclosure and discussion of abuse.
Furthermore, the lack of resources for support services or the lack of awareness of what services are available to provide immediate and follow-up care to patients in need may discourage physicians from acknowledging the existence of abuse and identifying victims. It is clear that improvement in the ability and the degree to which victims of abuse are recognized and given appropriate assistance by physicians and other caring professionals in a non-threatening environment is urgently required.
Individuals who are abused usually approach the health care system through primary contact with emergency departments or other primary care centres. The care available in such settings is acute, fragmented and episodic. Such settings are not appropriate for the victims of violence.
The challenge that we, as physicians, recognize is to be able to provide access in a coordinated way to medical, social, legal and other support services that are essential for the victim of violence. This integration of services is essential at the point of initial recognition and contact. The CMA has been involved with eight other organizations in the Interdisciplinary Project on Domestic Violence (IPVD), the primary goal of which is to promote interdisciplinary co-operation in the recognition and management of domestic violence.
2. Education and Training: The spectrum of abuse is complex; the victims are diverse; expertise in the field is developing. The current system of medical education neither provides health care personnel with the knowledge or skills nor does it foster the attitude to deal adequately with this issue. Some of CMA's divisions have played an active role in this area. For instance, the Ontario Medical Association has developed curriculum guidelines and medical management of wife abuse for undergraduate medical students. It is ,important that there be more involvement by relevant medical groups in developing educational and training programs and more commitment from medical educators to integrate these programs and resources into the curriculum.
Programs must be developed and instituted at all levels of medical education in order that physicians can gain the requisite knowledge and skills and be sensitive to the diversity of victims of violence.
The CMA believes that the educational programs must result in: 1) understanding of the health consequences of violence; 2) development of effective communication skills; and, 3) understanding of the social context in which violence occurs.
Understanding of the social context in which violence occurs will require an examination of the values and attitudes that persist in our society, including a close consideration of the concepts of gender role socialization, sexuality and power. This is required in order to dispel the pervasive societal misconceptions held by physicians and others which act as barriers to an effective and supportive medical response to patients suffering the effects of violence.
3. Development of Protocols: The CMA recognizes the need for more effective management and treatment of the spectrum of problems associated with violence against women. Health care facilities, professional organizations and other relevant groups are challenged to formulate educational and policy protocols for integrated and collaborative approaches to dealing with prevention of abuse and the management of victims of violence.
The CMA and a number of its divisions have been active in this area:
In 1985, the CMA prepared and published Family Violence: Guidelines for Recognition and Management (Ghent, W.R., Da Sylva, N.P., Farren, M.E.), which dealt with the signs and symptoms, assessment and management, referral assistance and medical records with respect to wife battering, child abuse and abuse of the elderly;
The Ontario Medical Association published Repons on Wife Assault in January 1991. This document, endorsed by the CMA, examines the problem of wife assault from a medical perspective and outlines approaches to treatment of the male batterer and his family;
The Medical Society of Nova Scotia has developed a handbook entitled Wife Abuse: A Handbook for Physicians, advising on the identification and management of cases involving the battering of women;
The New Brunswick Medical Society has produced a series of discussion papers on violence and in conjunction with that province's Advisory Council on the Status of Women, has produced a graphic poster depicting physical assault on pregnant women as a way of urging physicians to be alert for signs of violence against women;
The Medical Society of Prince Edward Island has worked cooperatively with the provincial Department of Health and Social Services and the Interministerial Committee on Family Violence to produce a document entitled Domestic Violence: A Handbook for
The CMA encourages continued involvement by the medical profession in the development of initiatives such as these and welcomes the opportunity to work in collaboration with other professionals involved in this area.
4. Research The CMA has identified violence against women as a priority health issue. Like rriany other areas in women's health, there is a need for research focusing on all aspects of violence and the associated problems. More specifically, the CMA maintains that there should be more research on the incidence of abuse (particularly as it relates to particular groups), on ways to facilitate the disclosure by victims of abuse and on the effectiveness of educational and prevention programs.
The CMA recognizes that the medical profession must show a greater commitment to ending abuse of women and providing more appropriate care and support services to those who are victims of violence. The CMA possesses unique skills and expertise in this area and welcomes the opportunity to work with the Panel on this challenging social and health problem.