Abuse of nurses and midwives on the rise in NSW

Verbal abuse, physical violence, sexual harassment and even death threats are common occurrences in the daily lives of many nurses and midwives working throughout New South Wales.

A recent survey of more than 3,500 members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) found almost one in two nurses and midwives had firsthand experience of violence in their workplace, while four in five nurses and midwives were on the receiving end of a violent episode in the past six months.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes said it was deeply disturbing how normalised acts of verbal and physical violence had become for nurses and midwives going about their daily jobs.

“Violence and aggression continues to be a critical issue for our members and the volume of respondents to the survey demonstrates this,” said Mr Holmes.

“There’s been a number of government reviews conducted in recent years – the Anderson Review is underway now – and we continue to make submissions on behalf of our nurses and midwives, calling for urgent improvements.

“We’re constantly interacting with hospitals where incidents are raised about the shortfalls, for example, it’s often the case that policies do exist to help protect staff, but they aren’t always being implemented or prioritised.

“We definitely need more security personnel across the state. Extra security is important, but not the only solution that’s required.

“I remain very concerned about regional facilities, where nursing staff are regularly at risk of adverse incidents. This is often compounded by short staffing issues or the fact that security or support from local police is difficult because they’re based in another town or cannot respond quickly.

“The government must support our nurses and midwives by implementing safe staffing in our hospitals and this can be achieved by mandating nurse-to-patient ratios throughout NSW.”

The NSWNMA survey, conducted by Dr Jacqui Pich from the University of Technology Sydney, also indicated violence and aggression towards nurses and midwives had crept beyond emergency departments, mental health units and residential aged care, with incidents increasing across all clinical settings.

Mr Holmes said alarmingly the reports of violence and aggression were increasing within maternity services, including inside birthing units, however under-reporting also remained a concern.

“We know many nurses and midwives often dismiss episodes of violence or aggression as simply part of their job and therefore they don’t report these incidents through official channels,” Mr Holmes said.

“We certainly want this attitude to change and we encourage our members to report all incidents but we also need managers, Local Health Districts and the NSW Ministry of Health to support nurses and midwives appropriately.”

Recommendations outlined in the report include mandatory training for nurses and midwives, reporting of incidents to be encouraged by employers, urgent updates to policies and procedures in consultation with nurses and midwives and heavy penalties for any breach of compliance.

Download a copy of the report here

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