Unions demand action to stop hospital violence

Ambulances in the emergency area of Royal Perth Hospital. Photo: Amelia Searson

The number of hospital security officers will need to skyrocket overnight if they are given increased powers, their union warns.

Health Services Union of Western Australia secretary Dan Hill said Health Minister Roger Cook had announced he would convene a meeting with HSUWA, United Voice and the Australian Medical Association to consider a response to increasing levels of violence in hospitals.

He said large metropolitan hospitals such as Royal Perth Hospital, where a nurse was recently allegedly stabbed in the neck by a patient, had as little as four security guards on shift at a time.

He added if a pair of security guards were engaged in patrol work, their response to a Code Black emergency in another part of the hospital could be delayed as a result of the lack of staffing.

“In the union’s view, [the meeting] needs to be more than simply a ‘talk fest’ and we need to come up with strategies and solutions to implement, with our members on the frontline,” he said.

He raised concerns about the implications of giving hospital security guards more powers.

“It needs to be thoroughly reviewed and discussed with the security guards,” he said.

“If they had the powers of arrest, you would probably need 30 per cent more security officers overnight because if a security guard is arresting someone, they then have the responsibility to stay with that person.

“We need to look at what police resourcing there is available [and] what other sorts of training… need to be looked at for our security officers, [in order] to help the situation rather than make it worse.”

Royal Perth Hospital executive director Lesley Bennett said while there had been a lot of work done in recent years to address the violence in hospitals, there was still a lot of work to be done.

“Our hospitals are doing as much as they can to protect staff but we need everyone to play their part,” she said.

Dr Bennett said front line staff received specialised training to recognise and respond quickly to early signs of aggressive behaviour, through a program called Aggression, Prevention and Intervention.

“The front-line staff demonstrate genuine care to patients… and it’s not acceptable for members of the community to come into our hospitals and act violently or aggressively towards staff,” she said.

Curtin University professor of critical care nursing Gavin Leslie said the recent stabbing at Royal Perth was not the first incident to occur and there was concern violence against hospital workers had become an escalating issue.

“The emergency department is an area of high risk for violent incidents, which is not a surprise,” he said.

“The rate of drug induced psychosis and patients of that nature does seem to be increasing with the increased use of methamphetamines, which presents a new type of risk.”

Professor Leslie said he wanted to see better support for response teams within hospitals, as well as the introduction of a campaign to make it clear to the public attacking nurses will not be tolerated.

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