Violence towards nurses and midwives called out in new campaign

Michael Weaver 3 September 2020
Walk-in Centre Dickson nurses

Nurse manager of the new inner north walk-in centre at Dickson Anne Douglas, left, with the nurses and nurse practitioners. Photo: Supplied.

The Assistant Director of Nursing for Canberra’s Adult Acute Mental Health Services, Sonny Ward, has experienced abuse from patients, their relatives and visitors. She accepts that people are not at their best when they are unwell, but it only makes a hard job more difficult.

The problem is so great across the healthcare sector it’s now the focus of a strategy that calls out what is and isn’t acceptable when interacting with healthcare workers in homes, community health centres, walk-in centres and hospitals.

“In the area of mental health, we are considered at greater risk of experiencing aggressive or abusive behaviour given the nature of mental illness and its impact on patients and their family members. However, I am particularly saddened when poor behaviour affects how we can deliver our care and it achieves nothing but delays in that treatment,” Ms Ward explained to Region Media.

Sonny Ward

Assistant Director of Nursing for Canberra’s Adult Acute Mental Health Services, Sonny Ward. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Ward said her team is understanding of how some patients treat healthcare workers and has a number of strategies to manage poor behaviour.

“I am very proud to lead a wonderfully eclectic and resilient team. I think we need to call out poor behaviour and make it clear that this is unacceptable, then people know their boundaries,” she said.

There are more than 7000 nurses, midwives and nurse practitioners in Canberra and ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says they deserve greater respect at a time of increased pressures on the health system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know most Canberrans value our nurses and midwives and treat them with respect and kindness. Yet our nurses and midwives still experience a high rate of occupational violence from people in our community,” said Ms Stephen-Smith.

“Occupational violence is not just physical. Yelling, name-calling, sneering, rude gestures, intimidating body language and other non-physical behaviours are also aggressive and can significantly impact the safety and wellbeing of healthcare workers.”


READ ALSO: The mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis


The campaign was developed with input from ACT Health, Canberra Health Services, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, consumers, and the ACT Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and is part of a wider strategy released in December 2018 under an ACT Labor-Greens Parliamentary Agreement.

It complements other work underway across the ACT to reduce instances of occupational violence for all staff across public health settings, including emergency service personnel such as police and paramedics.

The campaign is being implemented in conjunction with Canberra Health Services’ Occupational Violence Strategy and the Speak up for Safety and Great Workplaces Program at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) ACT Branch Secretary Matthew Daniel said the campaign is part of greater investment in shaping positive workplaces under the Independent Review into Workplace Culture within ACT Public Health Services.

“Nurses and midwives do their very best to meet the care needs of their patients and the ANMF is hopeful that the public will embrace the campaign messages,” Mr Daniel said.

“Nurses and midwives understand that people can find the uncertainty of illness or hospitalisation stressful, but it helps no one if nurses and midwives are concerned about their own safety.”


READ ALSO: Committee wants Auditor-General to probe Canberra Hospital expansion project


For those at the frontline, Ms Ward said kindness costs nothing and respectful behaviour should be extended to everyone within the community.

“Why should nurses and midwives experience things differently?” she asks.

“Most nurses and midwives will tell you that one of the main drivers for entering our professions is to care for people in the best way possible and that means with kindness and respect at every turn. Sadly, it is not always reciprocated. The professions of nursing and midwifery are all about providing excellent care and with kindness and respect.

“I feel a sense of reward when I see our people recover from significant illness to resume some level of normal life. They may not always be in a position to reflect on how their illness impacts on their behaviour for some time, but I remain hopeful that the kindness and respect we model in our interactions today will come back to us tomorrow.”

The campaign comprises videos and information which will be distributed online and in healthcare settings across Canberra.


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