Last Drinks campaign launched

Nurses speak out against alcohol-related violence.

Working in the ED at night, especially at the weekend, is no walk in the park at the best of times: chronic staff shortages mean nurses are already overworked in busy EDs. So to be verbally and physically abused by patients under the influence of alcohol on top of this is unacceptable.

This is why the NSWNA has joined forces with other emergency services organisations to launch the Last Drinks campaign, which calls on the NSW Government to introduce alcohol trading restrictions such as lockouts and reduced trading hours, similar to those already in place in Newcastle, state-wide to help put an end to nurses, doctors, police and paramedics becoming the victims of alcohol-related abuse.

The Last Drinks report, which was launched on 30 March, pulls together statistics that show alcohol-related violence ‘occurs mainly where extended late trading licensed premises are concentrated and is the major cause of injury and hospital admissions in areas surrounding the same “hotspots”’.

The report cites two Australian studies that found almost 90% of ED nurses experience physical intimidation or assault at some point in their career, with up to 50% of episodes associated with alcohol or drugs, and that such violence occurs more commonly during evening and weekend shifts.

Paula Brown’s experience bears this out. Paula is an RN at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown, who spoke at the campaign launch. She says she and her colleagues are routinely spat on, threatened and verbally abused by patients under the influence of alcohol. Occasionally they are even punched and kicked.

‘Unfortunately, we are easily accessible in that they can find out who we are so the threats are not empty promises – there’s a good chance they could carry out their threats,’ she told The Lamp. ‘It does worry you as it happens most nights and it wears you down, mentally. We get very worn down with the constant abuse of patients.’

Paula says Wednesday through to Sunday evenings are the worst, especially during festivals such as Mardi Gras, Halloween and Christmas, as well as long weekends. In addition to taking its toll on the wellbeing of nurses, intoxicated patients also require more attention, especially when they need to be restrained.

‘They take your main focus when they become aggressive. Everyone focuses on that one patient and it takes you away from other patients who are less medically well,’ said Paula. ‘Sometimes it takes up to six nurses to help restrain a person.’

One of the reasons so many nurses are leaving the profession or switching to part-time work is because they are so physically tired and mentally exhausted, especially if they are also constantly subjected to verbal and physical abuse, according to Paula.

‘You do definitely dread doing those shifts,’ she said. ‘You wonder what is going to come in each night. It’s very stressful – you’re constantly putting yourself in danger when attending to intoxicated patients.’

The current approach of appealing to people’s better instincts and calling for personal responsibility is not working, so the Last Drinks campaign is seeking stronger restrictions on late-night alcohol trading across the State, including a 1am lockout for all hotels, unless an earlier lockout has already been imposed. The campaign cites the success of a similar initiative in Newcastle in which reduced trading hours led to a decrease in the numbers of alcohol-related violence.