Nurse stabbing to prompt police custody transfer review

Health Minister Roger Cook talks to the media.
Health Minister Roger Cook talks to the media.

A STABBING attack on a nurse at a Perth hospital could prompt a review in the way people in police custody are transferred to hospital staff.

Health Minister Roger Cook pledged to listen to employees’ safety concerns as he revealed troubling new figures on nurse assaults in Parliament.

The figures were tabled after Royal Perth Hospital staff were left shaken by the recent stabbing of a 55-year-old nurse in the acute surgical ward.

“I am advised the Commissioner of Police has spoken to the Director General of Health regarding the latest incidents of a deeply concerning assault at Royal Perth Hospital,” Mr Cook said.

“I have requested advice on a potential memorandum of understanding on the transfer of people in the custody of police to hospital staff.”

Frontline staff have safety concerns. Picture: File image

Mr Cook will also meet with frontline hospital staff and their representatives in coming months to listen to their views on what can be done to improve safety.

Figures tabled in parliament at the request of Opposition leader Mike Nahan revealed incidents of violence against nurses from July to December in 2017 and 2018.

They included a spike of 107 assaults recorded against nurses at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in October last year.

Mr Cook said he acknowledged more needed to be done to help protect frontline health staff.

He asked the Department of Health to review recent incidents and data regarding hospital assaults to identify any new strategies.

Violence against nurses

Figures revealed more than 500 assaults on nurses were reported in just six months at one hospital in Perth last year.

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital staff lodged 515 assaults in the second half of last year – more than double the number of assaults for the same timeframe in 2017.

By contrast, Royal Perth Hospital recorded 51 assaults for the second half of 2018, and Fiona Stanley hospital recorded 52 assaults for the six-month period.

But the health minister questioned the overall integrity of the data and said he wants to see a more uniform approach.

Staff at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital lodged 515 assaults in the second half of last year.

Mr Cook told Community News different hospitals had different definitions of what constitutes an assault and how to report violence against staff.

“I want to see a new, system wide and consistent approach across our public hospitals,” he said.

“These are difficult and complex issues, however we must act and be clear: violence will not be tolerated.

“I will be holding an urgent roundtable meeting with health stakeholders to address the issue of assaults against staff and in particular identify the strategies that will improve the situation.”

He will make contact with the new Federal Health Minister regarding an election promise to fund a $4.8 million Behavioural Assessment Unit at SCGH.

“The Behavioural Assessment Unit will provide better support for people presenting to the hospital’s emergency department with mental illness and drug and alcohol issues,” he said.

Dr Nahan said the increase in assaults on nurses since 2017 was “extremely alarming”.

“Premier Mark McGowan has run out of excuses not to act, we don’t need more talk from the State Government we need action and we need our nurses protected from violence.”

The figures showed slight decreases at some hospitals including Fiona Stanley and Rockingham, but also sharp increases at Bentley, Fremantle and SCGH.

A spokeswoman for the North Metro Health Service, which includes SCGH, said all staff had been part of a campaign in 2018 on reporting assaults.

Data pulled from the hospital’s OSH office for the assault section of the Question on Notice included physical contact, and non-contact physical aggression like a patient swinging their arm at a person aggressively.

An East Metro Health Service spokeswoman said the Royal Perth Hospital aggression figures reflected “physical aggression which resulted in injury which was formally recorded by the hospital”.