SLS stats show that violence is surging 

ANMF (SA Branch) members taking part in a Safer Nurses = Safer Care campaign on the Port Lincoln foreshore in February.

20 June 2022

Violence and abuse are soaring in South Australian hospitals and other health care settings – by an alarming 47 per cent in the last five years. 

This is based on the number of incidences of physical, verbal and mental abuse reported by staff to SA Health’s internal Safety Learning System (SLS).

Metropolitan incidents jumped from 2,063 in 2017 to 2,824 in 2021. In the regional areas, the figure surged from 863 to 1,484. 

That makes for a total of 2,926 reported incidents in SA in 2017, with violence rising every year, culminating in a frightening 4,308 reports in 2021. 

Attacks against ambulance staff were not included in the data.

ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM told online newspaper InDaily that every week the union received reports of people being punched, kicked, spat at, sworn at and threatened.

“Over the last number of years, nurses and midwives have been brutally beaten, glass doors smashed in, cans of Coke been thrown with full force and hair ripped from scalps,” Ms Dabars told InDaily.

“No one should be looking over their shoulders wondering if they will be hit, least of all those who are doing their best to care for others.”

Attacks in regional settings actually spiked by more than 50 per cent in a single year - from 975 in 2020 to 1,484 in 2021.

Ms Dabars told InDaily that nurses and midwives were fearful for themselves, their colleagues, patients and visitors.

“Violence and aggression in the health system is appalling and unacceptable,” she said.

“Everyone has a legal right to be safe at work.”

She said the ANMF (SA Branch) had secured a commitment from the former government to adopt a “zero-tolerance policy” to violence and aggression.

“They also adopted parts of the 10-point plan we were advocating to combat violence and aggression in the health system,” she said.

“Despite our advocacy, the former government failed to successfully implement their own policy.

“As a result, the policy does not reflect the real lived experience on the floor and at the bedside.

“The failure to implement means that violence and aggression continues to escalate.”

Ms Dabars said the response from SA Health to prevent violence over the past four years was “sluggish at best, and culpable at worst”.

“We believe that the Department of Health is in breach of health and safety laws by failing to provide a safe work environment,” she told InDaily.

“We put this to the Department more than 12 months ago and they rejected our assertions.

“We have (sought), and continue to seek, the intervention and action of the regulator, SafeWork SA, with varying, yet overall limited, results.”

Ms Dabars said “real action on the ground” was needed.

“Most importantly, we need actions that prevent and deter violence and aggression,” she said.

Ms Dabars said Labor had committed to its 10-point plan to address violence and aggression prior to the election and Premier Peter Malinauskas had since committed to a review of workplace security in regional hospitals, following a significant rise in violence.

“We plan to progress those conversations over the coming weeks to bring life to those commitments and to achieve real change in the health system that will make hospitals and health care a positive and safe place for nurses, midwives, other health professionals and the communities they serve,” she said.

The ANMF (SA Branch) will continue to advocate for application of the 10-point plan and improved safety across regional hospitals. 

We have been advocating strongly for regional improvements. 

“We had a big win in 2021 with the Whyalla and Port Augusta Hospitals introducing 24/7 security guards,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“This very positive action followed widespread media coverage after the ANMF (SA Branch) exposed 22 assaults against nurses at Whyalla Hospital in a 4½ week period early last year, including incidents of nurses being bitten, punched and choked.

“The installation of guards at those two hospitals has had a big impact on reducing violence and aggression, with staff feeling much safer in their workplace.

When coming to office, Peter Malinauskas committed $8 million to upgrade emergency department security and capacity at Mount Gambier and to a review of security in regional hospitals arising from the safety concerns we had been campaigning about.

“We have spoken to the Minister of Health Chris Picton in relation to progressing that review and have been heartened by those preliminary discussions," Ms Dabars said.

"The new Government appears to be genuinely committed to meeting their election promises and we look forward to working with them to progress this important piece of work and to hold them to account for their commitments.’’