Safety first for trial to take pain out of conflict in our hospitals

Michael Weaver 19 January 2021
Rachel Stephen-Smith and Anne Douglas

Rachel Stephen-Smith and nurse manager at the Dickson Walk-In Centre Anne Douglas. Photo: Region Media.

A six-month trial program has been launched to reduce conflict on Canberra’s hospital wards and make ACT public health spaces safer for all nursing and midwifery staff, as well as patients and visitors.

Launched by Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith, the Safewards model will be implemented in four wards across Canberra Hospital and Calvary Public Hospital.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the program has been successful in other Australian states and territories at reducing ward events involving conflict, with the most improvements seen in adult and youth mental health wards.

It has also helped staff and consumers feel safer and more positive in inpatient environments such as emergency departments.

“Any conflict that happens on a ward can cause distress to those involved in an already stressful environment,” said Ms Stephen-Smith.

“The Safewards program gives staff the tools to de-escalate conflict and build positive relationships with each other and their patients.”

Safewards champions Joel and Donna

Safewards champions Joel and Donna discuss making Canberra’s hospital wards safer. Photo: ACT Health.

Executive Director of Canberra’s Health Care Consumers’ Association Darlene Cox welcomed the introduction of the Safewards model to the ACT and said safety in Canberra’s hospital wards is something that can be changed.

“We know that receiving healthcare can be a very stressful experience for consumers, and health service staff may not know what they can do to help de-escalate that stress,” Ms Cox said.

“It includes interventions that health services introduce which have a positive impact on the way staff and patients relate to each other.”

Ms Cox also said aspects of the therapeutic environment could be changed and improved so that patients have a better experience.

“These changes combine to reduce the anxiety, fear and frustration sometimes experienced by patients, and this, in turn, improves the experience of health care for patients, carers and health staff.”

The Safewards trial will be held across four public hospital wards:

  • Canberra Hospital General Medical Ward 7B
  • Canberra Hospital Adult Acute Mental Health Unit
  • Calvary Public Hospital General Medical Ward 4B
  • Calvary Public Hospital Older Person Mental Health Inpatient Ward.

Ms Stephen-Smith said it is also a deliverable of the Nurses and Midwives: Towards a Safer Culture strategy, which sets the ACT’s vision for a safer and healthier environment for all nursing and midwifery staff and persons who enter ACT public health workplaces.

The ACT Health Directorate, Canberra Health Services, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT and Health Care Consumer’s Association are working on the strategy and this trial.

Findings and outcomes of the six-month trial will be used to consider the broader implementation of the Safewards program across the ACT’s public health system.


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Ms Stephen-Smith said there were lots of more practical ways to avoid conflict.

“Some examples include setting clear mutual expectations with patients, visual signage in the ward about sensitive and respectful communication, a display of positive notes written by patients and their carers before discharge, and creating a box of items that patients can use to feel calmer and more relaxed.

“Safewards aims to support staff and clients to work together to make facilities and wards more peaceful and friendly, and therefore safer for everyone,” she said.

More information about Safewards can be found on the ACT Health website.


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