Summit to stop violence

Tackling violence: WA health minister Roger Cook convened the Stop the Violence summit after a push from the state's medical unions to break the cycle of rising aggression across WA's hospitals. Photo: File Image.
Tackling violence: WA health minister Roger Cook convened the Stop the Violence summit after a push from the state's medical unions to break the cycle of rising aggression across WA's hospitals. Photo: File Image.

An emergency summit to address the increasing levels of violence against frontline health staff across Western Australia has been hailed as a success by those in attendance.

Hosted by the state government on June 21, the Stop the Violence summit was convened by WA health minister Roger Cook after a push from the state's medical unions to break the cycle of rising aggression across WA's hospitals.

Statistics show there were 703 assaults on WA nurses alone in the second half of 2017, which jumped to 971 assaults during the same period in 2018 - a 38 per cent increase in incidents.

More than 110 health staff and industry stakeholders attended the event, including leaders and representatives from WA Police, St John Ambulance, the mental health, drug and alcohol sectors, as well as unions and health consumers, the health minister and director general of health.

They discussed a range of issues including current security measures, the powers of security officers, public education, and other key priority areas to identify strategies and make recommendations for action.

Since the summit, the Department of Health has began compiling a report on the findings to present to Mr Cook for consideration.

Mr Cook said the summit brought together expert opinion and experience to "galvanise further action".

"Assaulting health staff is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I am appalled by the rise in acts of violence and aggression, people who behave like this are not welcome in our public hospitals," he said.

"Violence against health staff has wide-ranging consequences which impact the psychological and physical wellbeing of staff, patients and visitors and, in some instances, puts healthcare provision at risk.

"The frontline staff who work in our public hospitals perform a vital role, they do an incredible job and should be treated with the utmost respect. Any act of violence against staff who are there to care for people is disgraceful.

"WA hospitals are already working hard to support and protect staff from violent and aggressive behaviour but we know that more needs to be done."

Australian Medical Association WA (AMA WA) emergency medicine spokesman Dr David Mountain attended the summit.

He said it was an important and timely gathering of all the relevant industry bodies to discuss a way forward that safeguards medical staff.

"I think everybody got to have a good say and everybody felt they could speak openly about their frustrations, problems and unhappiness caused by the violence in our emergency departments," Dr Mountain said.

"We are glad they called the summit because it's important for everybody who's been involved and everyone who has suffered the consequences of working in those environments to know that they at least had the ear of the minister and the senior people in the department.

"It sounded like they heard the message and it sounded like they wanted to do something about it and they sounded like they were going to try and do that urgently."

Dr Mountain said for the summit to have been a success, it was essential the government delivered on their promise of "urgent action".

"At the end of that day, they didn't agree to very much implementation but they did promise to come back soon with consultation and plans for what they were going to do - and said it was a high priority for them," he said.

"They need to follow up and start to formulate plans and make sure that they put resources in to ensure these issues are dealt with.

"If people don't think it's been dealt with responsibly and we don't end up with meaningful change or responses and proper engagement, then I think will leave people even more disillusioned with the system than they already are."

Dr Mountain said the AMA WA had raised a number of concerns to ensure the security of the union's members, especially inside emergency departments.

"They have to make sure there there's security visible and available in all departments and there has been some progress on that which has been welcomed," he said.

"We need to start to find actual solutions to why patients are kept in EDs for unnecessary periods of time and we didn't hear much about that.

"The real problem is the lack of capacity in our system, which everybody, other than the administrators and Department of Health, agree is clear."

Health Service Union of Western Australia (HSUWA) assistant secretary Chris Panizza said the summit was a unique and rewarding opportunity for stakeholders to voice their opinions.

He also added that the union looked forward to "further action, as promised".

"The summit was a success in that it accomplished what it set out to do and gave our members in attendance the opportunity to provide input and be heard," he said.

"Participants felt all were committed to taking action and that the government was committed to addressing the issues and to put in the resources over an extended period of time to ensure that the summit delivers real improvements.

"The HSUWA will continue to campaign for the security, safety and welfare of our members, by working with the government to ensure it delivers on the key outcomes of the summit and to ensure that all of the issues we have raised are addressed."

As well as the concerns raised by AMA WA, the HSUWA also called on the state government to act on a number of other areas.

"We want there to be a set minimum standard for the number of security officers across all major hospitals and ensure they have clearly defined powers and authority," Mr Panizza said

"The government need to change the law to protect medical staff to be able to make a decision to remove an aggressive patient from hospital if safe to do so.

"Also there needs to be better funded and more mental health services and drug and rehabilitation services."

All stakeholders and attendees of the summit are expected to be kept informed as work progresses between the Department of Health and East Metropolitan Health Service to develop a clear project plan, with defined time frames, to implement specific short, medium and long-term actions.