Mental health nurses have been punched in the face, bitten and had their car tyres slashed in a string of violent workplace attacks reported to a new hotline.
More than 14 critical incidents have been logged with the Health and Community Service Union’s telephone hotline in the past month, prompting calls for more mental health workers and specialist training. The union’s state secretary, Lloyd Williams, said there were not enough staff to provide one-on-one support to patients in acute mental health units.
”The patients are frightened and that can manifest in the sort of behaviour we are seeing where people lash out and hurt clinicians, or indeed hurt other patients.”
At one inner-city hospital a nurse’s arm was bitten by a patient. In another incident, a patient verbally abused a nurse and punched them in the face, causing a suspected broken nose and extensive facial bruising. Five mental health workers, who expressed concerns about leaving work at night with no security, had their car tyres slashed.
Another nurse was punched in the face and taken to hospital with a broken cheekbone.
”People go to work not knowing if they are going to be assaulted on that day,” Mr Williams said. The union set up the hotline after a patient smashed a window and allegedly chased a nurse with a 30-centimetre shard of glass in a terrifying attack at Monash Medical Centre in July. The hospital denied the nurse was chased or threatened by the patient, although witnesses have confirmed the union’s claims.
The hotline allows mental health workers to log threats and assaults, and has recently been expanded for disability workers. The union has de-identified the reports to ensure whistleblowers remain anonymous. A government spokeswoman said violence against hospital staff was unacceptable. She said Health Minister David Davis had established an advisory committee to improve safety in hospitals, and the 2012-13 state budget included $5.8 million over four years.
”The funding has so far been used to upgrade and extend security systems, including CCTV cameras, duress alarms, swipe card restricted access, and staff training.”
This article first appeared on The Age on 30 September, 2013.