Douglas Adams once said: “To give real service, you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” If we must reflect on his words as healthcare professionals, we are once again reminded that the work we do can never be compensated with money because we do it with love and dedication. However, one is left wondering if this is the same passion that drives every healthcare professional.
Healthcare professionals play a major role in our health sectors and their value is indisputable, especially in the Covid-19 era. We honour all the frontline workers for dedicating their lives every day to serve humanity, and we remember those who succumbed to the virus while keeping others safe. Being a healthcare worker is one of the noblest professions because you use all that you have, to render care and we appreciate all health professionals as they continue to make our world a better place.
However, there has been an outcry from the public due to the type of service that is being offered by public servants. The current culture in most public offices does not promote a friendly customer service approach. Many public servants have accustomed to the old way of doing things that might not be appropriate for the current world we live in. A friendly smile, a simple question of how can I help you? or better still, what can we do for you? today does not exist anymore. Customers are greeted by angry servants who have forgotten the very reason why they came to work. If every Namibian who endures bad service was to videotape such acts, many of us might be on the verge of losing our jobs.
In the health sector, disturbing videos displaying unlawful conduct from some healthcare professionals were trending. Newspapers have been filled with bad reports of how some patients were treated, which led to dissatisfaction and sometimes loss of lives. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is not something new, many of us have been victims of poor public services in one form or another or perhaps we are the perpetrators of such services without being cognizant.
One is left to wonder, what is happening in our public sectors? Why is there such an outcry especially in public facilities yet we do not hear the same complaints coming from private sectors? Can we change the current situation? This article aims to remind all public servants especially healthcare professionals of their rights and the rights of those they serve. We would like to give practical examples on how to uphold those rights and lastly a word of advice from fellow health care professionals that we believe if listened to will help us all practise our profession with integrity, compassion, and respect.
As healthcare professionals, we practice in a public space hence we are in the public eye all the time. We have to promote health, prevent, treat, manage illnesses, and preserve physical and mental wellbeing for those under our care. We ought to treat all patients and their relatives with love, respect, dignity, compassion, confidentiality, without discrimination yet always offering them privacy. We need to think of the statement, “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” when rendering care or serving the ones seeking our services. However, it seems that some have forgotten how to practice their profession guided by these core values.
Through indirect conversations with peers and colleagues, questions have been asked if the videos of nurses mistreating clients are appropriate and if it is not an invasion of privacy.
The discussion around these topics has raised mixed feelings on whether the person who took the video was right or wrong. According to the privacy law, this is what we have to say:
In Namibia, any person may photograph any other person, without their permission, in public spaces and the subject of the photograph has no right to stop it. The emphasis here is on the word public. A hospital is a public place, even though it is on private property. A hospital can make rules about what happens on its property, which may include prohibiting photographs. However, it can be difficult to enforce rules prohibiting patients or families from taking photographs, because patients and families become suspicious that the policy is aimed at protecting the hospital in case of litigation.
Privacy laws permit a photographer to take pictures in any public space. This includes anything which can be seen from a public area. When in a public place, photographers have not broken laws by photographing you, they do not have to explain themselves, they do not have to show you the photograph and they do not have to identify themselves. That photo or video belongs to them, and it is their personal property. You, as the subject, may not threaten them or physically restrain them. That is against the law. By appearing in public areas, or within the range of a zoom lens in public areas, you essentially waiver your right to anonymity or privacy. You, as a member of the public, only have rights when you have secluded yourself to a place where privacy is deemed a reasonable assumption. Such as bathrooms, changing rooms, or inside your home. It is also generally accepted to use images of anybody for personal or fair use purposes. This could include sharing on social media.
The question that many have asked is the right to privacy for healthcare practitioners and how healthcare practitioners are to practice freely without fear of being videotaped. We would like to believe that healthcare workers have the right to practice freely and in a supportive environment without fear of being photographed or videotaped.
However, the following are the only circumstances in which photos and or videos cannot be taken:
When a photographer intrudes on your home or “private domain” - a place where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy - the act of photography could be an “invasion of privacy.” This rule would apply even if the photographer was standing in public. Although employees do not generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy at a workplace, if a photographer harasses his / her subject, catches a revealing photograph when the employee is bending over, or photographs an employee in a restroom, a court might find an invasion of privacy.
When the photography is portrayed in a “false light”. Meaning the photograph is published and portrayed falsely that an ordinary person would find offensive. The photographer must have known or recklessly disregarded the falsity.
When a photographer uses your picture to sell or use for monetary gain without your permission.
Therefore, healthcare provision and patient care are centred on trust. Without trust between the health care provider and the patient, it becomes increasingly difficult to offer independent, respectful, and quality care by the professional and equally difficult for the patient to perceive such care as in their best interest.
Therefore, we advise and recommend health professionals and all public servants to practice their profession as if someone is always watching. Meaning, even when alone, act diligently, with respect, kindness, knowledge, skills, and requisite competence. Keep clear records of your work, listen attentively to your clients, offer adequate information to your clients and colleagues. When in doubt, it is always good to consult the next person rather than sending the client around. Supervisors must equally be responsive to the needs of their subordinates and treat them with respect and dignity. Promoting a culture of support and respect at the workplace is vital in promoting healthy working relations.
As C.S Lewis once said, “you cannot go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” We hope these words stimulate a desire in all health practitioners and all public servants to practice and serve differently to make the world a better place. May we be reminded that we are the voice of the voiceless, the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, the legs of the lame, and the heartbeat of the medical system. We all need each other’s support, and we have to promote a culture of trust and respect. Remember to always treat the next person as if that is you.
From fellow health professionals and public servants who understand and value what you do, and believe we can improve for the better.
* Aina Lucas is a registered nurse, midwife and health professions educator.
* Sylvia Hamata is a nurse, midwife and lawyer.
* The views expressed in this article are of their own and by no means that of their employers.