Nurses at risk under proposed prescription drug measures: ANMF (SA Branch)

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Nurses claim they will face greater risk of harm at the state’s largest prison, warning that new cost-cutting measures could lead to a black market for prescription drugs.

The nurses shortage at Port Augusta Prison has led to dozens of beds in a new $55 million wing sitting empty, as guards refuse to transport more inmates into the complex until the issue is resolved.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch chief executive Elizabeth Dabars said nurses were worried their safety would be at further risk because of a proposal that medications, including anti-psychotic drugs, no longer be physically overseen by staff. Instead, inmates would be provided pre-packaged medication, which Ms Dabars said created an obvious risk of abuse within the prison.

“The consequences are no doubt life-threatening. People taking the wrong medications or not receiving the right medications can be a matter of life and death,” Ms Dabars said.

“What is concerning is who is overseeing or supervising the provision of that medication, we have to have regard to the fact that this is the second-most secure prison in South Australia.”


Ms Dabars said while the pre-packaged medication may be appropriate in lower-security jails, it should not be used at Port Augusta, which now houses the most inmates after the partial opening of the Saltbush unit. “It is a very serious concern to not know whether people are receiving and or taking their medications correctly, and that’s why we have raised it,” she said.

“It’s a high security prison so there might be other uses of those medications and that the people they are intended for may not end up receiving them.”

Port Augusta now houses 589 inmates, overtaking Yatala Labour Prison on 576, while Mount Gambier jail has 493 prisoners. It will become the largest jail in SA at the end of a major development now under construction. Ms Dabars said the federation was not convinced the SA Prison Health Service’s proposed medication changes would actually achieve their aims.

“Besides the fact that we don’t necessarily feel that is an appropriate approach, it’s not clear to us that people will have considerable time freed up for other activities,” she said.

Public Service Association assistant general secretary Natasha Brown said members would refuse any requests to move more inmates into Saltbush until the nursing issue was properly addressed.

“We welcome the new unit and the additional beds but it needs to be staffed adequately to deal with the additional workload,” she said. The nursing shortage was also creating extra work and risks for prison guards. “Guards are having to escort prisoners to hospital if they are unable to get their medication at the prison, which puts more pressure on staff and the obvious safety risk of having unmedicated prisoners who need ongoing treatment,” Ms Brown said.

A government spokeswoman said 35 per cent of nursing staff at Port Augusta were agency nurses and that numbers fluctuated “particularly during the Christmas holiday period”. “Recruitment to fill existing vacancies is underway. Our clinical staff ensure all patients have appropriate access to medication,” she said.

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