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‘We’ve just had enough’: Healthcare workers threaten strike over patient assaults

He called on the state government to increase staffing levels and provide special training to hospital security guards to safeguard workers as well as patients and visitors.

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Provided the strike motion passes as expected on Tuesday, 22,000 HSU members will launch industrial action across all NSW hospitals, probably within the next four weeks.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve just had enough,” Mr Hayes said.

“If this is what it takes to get common sense and make people safe in a health setting, well, so be it.”

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said violence in healthcare settings was “an extremely worrying development” nationally that was linked to the increasing number of drug and alcohol-affected patients presenting in emergency rooms.

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“There’s no alternative to having sufficient staff on duty and sufficient resources to deal with an increase in demand,” Dr Bartone said.

“Healthcare workers need to be protected and governments need to ensure they are doing anything they possibly can to ensure … a safe place to work.”

He said there had been “many attempts” to put an end to hospital violence. Any solution must include measures to de-escalate and minimise aggravation in patients and avoid “unnecessarily prolonging” their time spent waiting in environments like emergency rooms.

Australasian College of Emergency Medicine president Simon Judkins said emergency rooms were “not the right environment” for agitated patients who needed treatment for mental health or drug and alcohol issues.

“It’s a very unsuitable environment to bring patients who are already aggressive into that sort of a melting pot,” Dr Judkins said. “It’s just a recipe for disaster.”

Health Service Union NSW president Gerard Hayes will move a motion at the union's state conference on Tuesday for the four-hour strike.

Health Service Union NSW president Gerard Hayes will move a motion at the union’s state conference on Tuesday for the four-hour strike.Credit:Rachel Olding

He said there was a clear link between the length of time patients had to wait in emergency departments and “an increasing escalation in their behaviour”, calling for hospitals to have “more appropriate environments” built in.

Another problem was the lack of drug and alcohol services in the community, he said, meaning emergency rooms were being flooded with patients with nowhere else to go.

Dr Judkins said reporting of hospital violence had increased, with most emergency staff experiencing it in some form.

“That can go from being pinched and pushed and shoved to people being assaulted and being put in headlocks and punched,” he said.

There’s no alternative to having sufficient staff on duty and sufficient resources to deal with an increase in demand.

Melbourne heart surgeon Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann died in 2017 after a one-punch assault in the foyer of Box Hill Hospital. His attacker was jailed for 10 years in April.

Last year’s Nepean Hospital incident prompted a state government review headed by former police and health minister Peter Anderson, who will publish his final report later this year.

In an interim report, Mr Anderson found there was a “disturbing” amount of violence and aggression towards hospital staff in NSW.

NSW Health is set to trial a new incident management system from September.

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