Aug 16, 2019

Violent attack on nurse: more needed to protect care staff




A nurse who was allegedly assaulted in the hospital where she works has said violence is never acceptable, and the incident has put the issue of protections for healthcare workers in the spotlight.

Amanda Treagus was at work in the emergency department of Port Lincoln Hospital when she was allegedly punched in the head repeatedly by a patient. 

She received a bruised eye and an injury to her forehead.

The alleged perpetrator was an 18-year-old patient, who has been charged with assault.

“It makes me sad and it makes me angry. Nurses don’t go to work expecting this to happen,” Ms Treagus told Nine.

Healthcare workers “too often” victims of violent crime

Healthcare workers “too often” are victim to violent crime,” Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary, Adjunct Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM, told HelloCare.

“Almost every day in South Australia’s health care system nurses and midwives are the victims of punching, kicking, spitting, biting and other forms of physical and emotional assault—and it has to end,” she said.

“Nurses, midwives and other health care practitioners dedicate their lives to caring for others and it is unacceptable that they now have to fight for their own lives at the same time.” 

Aged care workers also victims of violence at work

Aged care staff are not immune to violence at work.

Adj Prof Dabars said in the aged care setting, “the effects of dementia and other mental health/cognitive impairments, polypharmacy and other factors” can lead to violence.

Residents who are living with dementia sometimes physically lash out when frustrations cause them to become agitated or aggressive.

Staff are often the victims of these assaults. When other residents are on the receiving end of such attacks, the results, tragically, can be fatal.

Violence, aggression on the rise

“The growing rate of violence and aggression in health care settings can be attributed to a number of factors; a lack of investment into mental health services and alcohol and illicit drug use are among them,” Adj Prof Habars said.

“Societal violence levels are up and this of course feeds into the experience in health care, particularly with patients and family members being under extreme stress and emotionally fraught. 

“The healthcare environment (with) open doors…, ward environments, queues and waits for service can compound this situation even further.”

Violence in healthcare workplaces

Ms Treagus released images of her injuries on Facebook, according to media reports.

“I was violently assaulted at work, performing my nursing duties,” Ms Treagus wrote in her post.

“The force was so great I have a whiplash injury. My head is incredibly sore, and my neck.”

“People need to know that it does happen and it shouldn’t be that those who dedicate themselves to care for others can be treated so brutally.”

Ms Treagus’s case is the second incident involving a health worker in recent months, with a nurse stabbed in the neck outside Adelaide’s Lyell McEwin Hospital in June and last year a cleaner was carjacked by an armed man outside the same hospital.

“More needs to be done to protect healthcare workers”

“Much more needs to be done” to protect healthcare workers, said Adj Prof Habars.

“For several years, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) has been calling on the South Australian Government to implement a State-wide plan to end the growing rate of violence in regional and metropolitan health care settings.” 

The Federation is lobbying for increased legal protections for health care workers facing violence in the workplace.

Adj Prof Habars said violence against care staff should never be seen as acceptable.

“One of the fundamental issues that we face is that violence is excusable or permissible in certain circumstances – whether in assaults by residents with dementia on care staff or by a person in an emergency department under the influence of illicit substances or with an acute mental health issue,” she said.

“Despite the circumstances of the violence, it must never be seen as acceptable or inevitable.”

Who will want to provide care?

Violent incidents at work can make care workers reconsider their career choices, Adj Prof Habars said.

“The post-violent-incident stress and trauma can sometimes end careers, result in lasting anxiety and mental health problems, as well as physical scars.”

Research suggests one in five nurses and midwives in South Australia are considering leaving their roles, with worsening working conditions a key factor, she said. 

“If the rate of violence continues without a systemic plan to minimise the risks and provide appropriate support to those impacted, who is going to want to work in nursing and midwifery, who will provide care to the community in the years to come?”

Tell us about your experiences. Have you been the victim of a violent assault at work?


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  1. A few years ago I worked on a surgical ward where a male patient routinely sexually assaulted female nursing staff via in appropriate touching and comments when we were providing care-he was a complex long stay patient who required assistance with all ADLs including washing. Despite repeated incidences management failed on a daily basis to ensure that there was a male nurse nurse rostered to our ward to provide care, and those of us who had been assaulted and traumatised were often still allocated to care for him. We didn’t feel that we could do much because we knew that our ward manager and nursing director were aware of the situation. I left that ward shortly after and have since moved away from ward nursing. In hindsight we should have escalated this to the union as it was a complete breach of OHS standards and the workplace failed miserably to provide staff with a safe working environment.

  2. I have been a nurse in a country hospital for over 40 years and the aggression and violence is getting worse than it’s ever been.. Sad part is that the perpetrator knows that nothing will happen to them, especially if they have a Mental health/drug/alcohol issue. The justice system is beyond a joke. When will the punishment fit the crime. Nurses should be protected and security should be the governments priority for all hospitals and especially in outback areas.

  3. This trend towards violence is disgusting and while we blame drugs and dementia etc for this how do the experts explain the road rage violence on our streets?
    Our society has lost tolerance and more importantly consequences are sadly lacking. This of course is exacerbated by the social policy of not allowing children to be disciplined. Teachers have these kids arrive at school from homes that have mentally abandoned their children and with outrageous behaviour and the schools have their hands tied. While the teacher is trying to control one brat 28 aren’t being taught.

    In hospital and aged care, as is the case with ambulance drivers and police etc, people attack these services and they will continue until penalties are increased. In my opinion the closing of dedicated asylums 30 years ago was a huge mistake and back then we didn’t have the drug problems of today.

    Australian people have been extremely fortunate in life, especially the under 40s etc. Never has a more privileged lifestyle been seen, but unfortunately they think they have it tough doing their 38 hour weeks!
    Australian youth is just not cutting it in terms of responsibility or commitment. A tough day is having slow internet or seeing someone drink from a plastic straw.!!
    Bloody grow up and the Government should squash this socialist trend, if you refuse to work and would rather spend your days planning your next protest rally I don’t feel inclined to provide the dole. Opponents to my comments will be saying.. blah blah freedom of speech blah blah… but apparently that does not apply to anyone that is not a mad leftist!!! Sad.

    The breakdown of societies moral fibre is the worst thing that has happened in our country since WW2

    1. So true Anton! We really do need to go back into history to see the comparisons with post WW2 and the decline in society. With all these rights that children have and adults have these days it has created a somewhat slippery slope of morals and the social decline of respect for others. The old saying of ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ was prominent until women in the 70’s of working class backgrounds found they needed to work to pay the bills their husband’s were drinking or gambling away. Abusive husband’s in alot of cases as well. A man’s world to drink after a day of work neglecting their family responsibilities. By the eighties and nineties most women were working and raising their families on their own like alot do today for much lower wages than often their male counterparts! The only negative to this was and is even today is that our children became ‘latch key kids’ coming home to an empty house after school and having no adult to supervise. No women at home to see what is happening in our streets and neighborhoods. Women were the backbone of the neighborhoods. If we are truly serious about doing good for equal rights then we need to pay women more for their contributions so their children can see that mum is worthy and respected by society because as I see it women are still seen as Carers only, subsidizing the household as that is reflected in the wages they earn. Still!

  4. Having worked with a agitated aggressive clients in the aged care sector. We must remain. Without care staff, there’s clients will be over medicated and prematurely leave there own home to live in a facility. It should be a choose for individual to volunteer to work with aggressive clients. And for these staff to be trained in how to deescalate or effectively deal with a physical altercation. Individuals suffering dementia still need care.


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