BEIJING (AP) — Several hundred hospital workers in white coats and surgical masks staged a rare protest in eastern China against attacks on medical workers after a patient stabbed three of their doctors, killing one.

The staffers assembled Monday outside the Wenling City No. 1 People's Hospital hoisting signs that said "uphold justice" and "guarantee medical staffers' safety."

"We are still protesting and demanding that the government and the hospital management ensure the safety of the doctors," said a woman who refused to give her name when reached by phone at the facility's emergency department.

The protest came after a knife-wielding patient, who was being treated in the emergency department, stabbed the three doctors on Friday. Dr. Wang Yunjie died while the other two were wounded, Wenling police said.

Attacks on hospital staff by patients have becoming increasingly common in China and some health experts blame it on the commercialization of health services. "Once the medical system decides that its aim is to 'make money,' patients will not trust doctors anymore," said Liu Jitong, a public health expert at Peking University.

Doctors have urged Chinese authorities to protect medical workers and fix problems in the medical system that have caused corruption to take root. Despite the government's injection of several hundred billion dollars of extra funding into the system over recent years, patients are still faced with high expenses and often substandard care.

Photos of the protesting staffers — in some images featuring rows of white lab coats facing off with black uniformed and helmeted riot police — circulated widely on Chinese microblogs and were getting prominent play on Internet news portals.

An official at the hospital director's office who refused to give her name said staffers started protesting on Sunday afternoon over a misunderstanding that police intended to forcibly remove the victim's body from his family. The woman said only a small proportion of hospital staff participated in the protest.

At least one other hospital in Zhejiang, a traditional Chinese medicine facility, held a small protest in support of Wenling staffers. "We urge doctors and patients to join hands and together build harmonious doctor and patient relations," read a post on the hospital's microblog.

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Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report from Shanghai.