A Brisbane lawyer and former hospital emergency department nurse says reports of Caboolture Hospital Mental Health Unit staff afraid to go to work after assaults by patients is a yet another example of the failure of Queensland Health to ensure the safety of its staff while working.
Brisbane injury compensation lawyer Trent Johnson, who has personal experience as a former registered nurse in the Queensland public hospital emergency department system says hospital staff should be protected against injury from violent patients.
He is appalled by reports of assaults at the Caboolture Hospital Mental Health Unit with recent claims of a patient stabbing a security guard. It’s claimed there have been 18 cases of patient assaults on staff within the Caboolture Hospital Mental Health Unit between January and August this year.
Injuries and incidents range from head knocks, cuts, scratches, punches, blood noses, bites and stabbings. Rooms were reportedly destroyed by patients, objects were thrown at staff and broken bed parts used as weapons to attack staff.
Trent, a personal injuries lawyer and Director with Bennett & Philp Lawyers, says Queensland Health needs to take urgent action to protect its staff members, including administrative staff, nursing staff, doctors and security officers, from being abused and violently attacked while doing their job trying to help people in need of medical care.
I used to be a registered nurse and spent 5 years working at Caboolture Hospital, 4 of those in Emergency. It’s a sad reflection on today’s society that frontline staff including administration, doctors, nurses and security cannot perform their work without risk of injury from physical and verbal assault.”
“Not only at Caboolture, but around the state, Queensland Health is aware its staff regularly face a real risk of injury just doing their job and what’s happening demands a tougher response from it. If Queensland Health fails to take proper steps to ensure its staff can safely do their work without being abused and assaulted, it can expect to receive plenty more compensation claims against it.”
Fellow Bennett & Philp Director and compensation law specialist Mark O’Connor says the crisis is widespread. A family member at a Brisbane hospital says staff face daily dangers from people with accident injuries who are violent and under the influence of the drug “ice”.
Trent says too often the public, sadly, has no concept of what hospital staff have to deal with, especially from patients intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol.
Front line staff provide invaluable service to the community and it is disgraceful they are used as punching bags by the very patients (and sometimes the families of those) they are trying to treat” he says.
Hospital staff injured by violent patients should press criminal charges and should pursue claims for damages where possible, against the individual(s) responsible for the assaults.
“The injured staff member should also lodge a workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible after the event, so they can receive appropriate and early treatment. In many instances they may also be able to sue their employer (for example the relevant hospital and health service) for any ongoing injuries and loss due to the employer’s failure to provide a safe working environment, failing to provide adequate staffing, failing to have regard to prior history of aggressive behaviour of particular patients and so on. In those circumstances it is important to make an early report so supporting evidence can be preserved.” he says.
Trent says dangerous workplaces such as hospitals also face increasing insurance premiums and the risk of Workplace Health & Safety Queensland prosecutions.
“Unions have been pushing for safe and better working conditions for hospital staff. It is time for Queensland Health to actively work with the unions and the Queensland Police Service to implement tough measures to prevent workplace assaults and ensure emergency response and hospital staff can carry out their duties safely at all times,” he says.
Trent says while some hospitals have implemented measures in an effort to reduce assaults on staff including duress alarms, CCTV and extra training, staff still also need the physical backup and deterrent of sufficient numbers of experienced and well-trained security guards to manage unruly and violent patients.
Too often hospital staff encounter patients at their worst and most violent moments especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. Emergency and hospital staff need to be able to do their jobs without fear of or risk to their own safety. These are our frontline health staff, and anything less is, quite frankly, simply not good enough.”
Individual liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation (personal injury work exempted).