28 August 2019

Libs call out Government as assaults against health staff soar

| Ian Bushnell
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The Canberra Hospital. The Canberra Liberals say staff safety is still a big problem. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The number of assaults against Canberra Health Services staff soared in 2018-19, with nurses bearing the brunt, especially in the mental health area.

CHS staff suffered almost 600 assaults in 2018-19, most of which occurred in mental health, according to a Government response to a Question on Notice from the Canberra Liberals, who say the new figures show the Barr Government is failing to keep nurses safe.

Of 596 assaults on CHS staff in 2018-19, 285 took place in Mental and Justice Health, Alcohol and Drug Services; 77 in Critical Care; and 68 in Medicine.

This compares with the 18 months from January 2017 to June 2018, when there were 340 assaults on health staff – 129 in Mental and Justice Health, Alcohol and Drug Services, 63 in Rehabilitation, Aged and Community Care and 37 in Critical Care.

There were also 42 assaults against patients in 2018-19, with 28 of them occurring in the adult mental health unit.

A Government response to another Question on Notice last year revealed an almost six-fold increase in assaults in the Adult Mental Health Unit in six years, increasing from 19 assaults in 2012 to 109 in 2018.

The Government also said then that there had been 48 accepted workers compensation claims from 2012 to 5 November 2018, worth $1.465 million.

Nurses last year posted these images on Facebook of injuries sustained by a nurse in the Mental Health Unit.

Last October, nurses posted photos on the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT branch Facebook site showing injuries suffered on the job in the Mental Health Unit, as part of the union’s Keep Nurses Safe campaign. Security was stepped up but nurses said that more needed to be done.

Across the system, the Canberra Liberals say the Government has refused to act on Shadow Health Minister Vicki Dunne’s call for more security and self-defence training for nurses working in high-risk areas.

They say staff have raised ongoing concerns about the safety of hospital car parks late at night despite measures taken last year and remain concerned about the risk of violence in the de-escalation room near the Canberra Hospital’s Emergency Department.

After last year’s shooting incident at the ED, when a patient under police guard grabbed an officer’s pistol and fired off several rounds, CHS conducted an internal review which delivered 12 recommendations that have been implemented but CHS has not publicly released what these were.

Minister for Workplace Safety Rachel-Stephen Smith said at the time that listing the exact recommendations may expose vulnerabilities which a committed attacker may exploit.

Last year, CHS introduced an Evening Courtesy Bus Service to take staff and visitors to their vehicles between 7 pm and 11 pm, seven days a week, and staffed it with a security officer so it could double as a mobile security patrol. Staff escorts outside of these hours could also be requested.

But Acting Shadow Health Minister Nicole Lawder said there were now, on average, almost two assaults on frontline health staff every single day.

“Frontline health staff in the ACT are less safe now than they were a year ago. This is an appalling testament to the incompetence of a Government that has been in power for 18 years,” she said.

Ms Lawder said ACT hospitals were becoming increasingly dangerous places to work, particularly in high-risk areas such as the mental health unit.

“These latest figures show there has been no real effort or movement by Andrew Barr and his string of Health Ministers to keep nurses safe,” she said.

“Most Canberrans have at some point in their lives experienced the dedication and professionalism of nurses, doctors and hospital staff. Frontline health staff make many personal sacrifices to care for people who are mostly strangers to them. We owe it to the community to keep frontline health staff safe.

“Everyone has the right to a safe workplace.”

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