Australia April 15 2018 Hospital staff will get extra protection from aggressive and drug-addled patients, with the McGowan Government committing $2.2 million for anti-stab vests and duress alarms.
The initiative will be rolled out over three years in a bid to address escalating violence in hospitals and other health facilities throughout WA.
About 250 anti-stab vests costing close to $1000 each will be provided to mostly security officers, while about 2500 personal mobile duress alarms at $570 each will be given to a range of health workers.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the alarms would be in addition to existing personal and work station alarms.
Mr Cook said they would be prioritised for clinical and security staff handling “high- risk patients” such as mental health patients and people affected by drugs and alcohol.
He said staff working in so-called “high-risk” facilities and locations would also qualify for the alarms. These sites included tertiary hospital emergency departments, mental health units and maternity wards, country health EDs and acute psychiatric units.
“The duress alarms will also help reduce risk of injury at home visits and to help protect staff in remote nursing posts,” Mr Cook said.
Mr Cook said funding for the project, to come from the 2018-19 State Budget, was vital to provide extra protection for staff who had the “right to feel safe in their workplace”.
There were 11,304 “code blacks” for aggressive incidents in 2017 at three of Perth’s most violent hospitals — Royal Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner and Fiona Stanley.
That equates to 31 actual and potential events a day just for those three sites. There were also 236 alarms at King Edward Memorial Hospital.
Unions have welcomed the initiative but said stress vests and alarms could only be a small part of an overhaul of all security measures to reduce violence.
Health Services Union WA secretary Dan Hill said more security officers to protect frontline workers in EDs were needed throughout WA, particularly at Bunbury Hospital where safety was “concerning”.
Mr Hill said security officers at Bunbury’s ED had been violently attacked in recent years and physical confrontations regularly occurred. If repeated calls for more security officers continued to be ignored, workers would consider stop-work action by month’s end.
Mr Cook said frontline health workers performed “a vital service in our community so it is essential we do all we can to ensure their safety”.
“The provision of protective equipment in the form of anti-stab vests and duress alarms is an unfortunate but necessary precaution given the levels of violence and aggression being reported across our health system, particularly in our hospital EDs.
“The purchase of this equipment will complement a range of other security measures in place to enhance the safety of the work environment for these highly-valued workers.”
He said the overall “security needs” of high risk sites would be addressed in 2018-19, with additional protective equipment to be rolled out over subsequent years.
“WA health will keep working with individual health service providers to develop, monitor and evaluate security implementation plans for at-risk sites,” the said.
United Voice Assistant State secretary Pat O’Donnell said orderlies should be considered for anti-stab vests as they were often involved in aggressive confrontations with patients.
Mr O’Donnell said all hospital workers should be widely consulted about implementation of the new security measures.
Australian Medical Association WA’s emergency department spokesman Dr David Mountain said the vests and duress alarms were “a band-aid measure” and a “waste of money” that were not needed.
He said the money could be better spent on extra security and ED staff to ensure less congestion and “bottlenecks” which contributed to an aggressive environment.