Grave concerns’ over forensic hospital assaults

NSWNMA urges Safework to act on “imminent danger” to mental health nurses.

 Nurses at Sydney’s Long Bay forensic hospital are at “imminent risk” of serious injury or death as a result of management’s failure to reduce exposure to violence from patients, the NSWNMA has warned.

The warning follows another serious assault in September in which six nurses were injured and two needed hospital treatment.

In March 2017, a nurse suffered a broken jaw, broken nose and two fractured eye sockets when assaulted by 
a patient.

The high-security forensic hospital cares for patients deemed unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

In a letter to the workplace health and safety regulator, Safework NSW, NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the union had “grave concerns” for members’ safety “arising from a failure of the Justice and Forensic Mental Health Network to eliminate or minimise” nurses’ exposure to high levels of violence.

“We strongly believe there is an imminent risk of serious injury or fatality to our members at the site,” Brett wrote to Safework’s executive director, operations, Anthony Williams.

Brett said Safework inspectors had been “engaging with the hospital” since March 2017 and issued improvement notices with no consequent reduction in risk to nurses.

He asked Mr Williams to outline what Safework now intended to do to minimise risk.

The hospital’s NSWNMA branch secretary and delegate, Michael Sparks, said staff called in Safework last year after five nurses were injured in two separate attacks.

“Safework asked the hospital to improve staff numbers, install security cameras, implement safety procedures and provide appropriate training.

“They only thing they have done is install CCTV cameras. These are not monitored by security or clinical staff and are there only for post-incident investigation. They will not stop assaults from happening.”

Many staff left after 12-hour shifts abolished

He said the hospital had been “chronically short staffed” since management switched from 12-hour shifts to eight-hour shifts.

“About one-third of staff resigned soon after 12-hour shifts were abolished and we now have vacancy rates in excess of 25 per cent.

“Those who resigned were experienced mental health nurses. A large number of current staff 
are agency nurses and new graduates who do not have the necessary experience and training to manage the level of violence exhibited by patients.

“Staff fatigue is a big factor given the high-stress nature of the job combined with excessive overtime.”

Michael said the hospital has no security guards except a private contractor who manages the front gate. “It is the nurses who provide security within the hospital and consequently get assaulted.”

“The branch has called for security guards but if we can’t get them we at least need to be fully staffed with a trained response team.

“The police hate coming here because it is such a dangerous situation. Often the local police will call the police Public Order and Riot Squad.”

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