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‘He king hit me’: Rates of violence against nurses on the rise

Email Rates of violence against nurses in hospitals increasing rapidly 7.30 By Geoff Thompson

Posted June 11, 2019 11:08:54

Graham Levy wears red shirt Photo: Former nurse Graham Levy was assaulted by a patient in 2016. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard ) Related Story: Body armour for WA doctors and nurses to protect against 'bullets and blades' Related Story: 'Somebody is going to die': Mental health nurses speak out about assaults Related Story: Nurse allegedly assaulted at mental health unit at Canberra Hospital Map: Australia

Former nurse Graham Levy has a 15-centimetre hole in his stomach wall, limited movement in his neck, hearing loss and psychological injuries after being assaulted by a patient.

Key points:

  • The number of people assaulted in health facilities in Victoria is up by 60 per cent in past three years
  • Queensland and NSW hospital assaults are up by nearly 50 per cent
  • There are calls for greater security for health workers

He does not work anymore and has been assessed as having "32 per cent total body impairment".

Sitting across the road from Macquarie Hospital, a mental facility in Sydney's north, Mr Levy recalls the day he was attacked.

"This is the first time that I've been here since I was assaulted in February of 2016," he told 7.30.

"[I'm] very, very uncomfortable about being here."

On that day, his life was changed in an instant.

"I went to work, as I usually did. I was given a patient to look after who's critically unwell.

"I said, 'Hi, my name is Graham, I'm a nurse, would you like some hot water for a cup of coffee?'

"He's turned around to me, started screaming at me, swearing … and he's king hit me. I was stunned.

"[He] hit me again. I went to the ground. He then kicked me twice in the head, abdomen."

Violence and assaults on nurses up sharply

Still from an anti nurse violence video Photo: The Queensland Department of Health has run a campaign to draw attention to the problem of violence against nurses. (Supplied: Qld Dept of Health)

Mr Levy's case is just one among hundreds of a growing number of incidents of violence against nurses in hospitals and other healthcare facilities in many Australian states.

The number of nurses assaulted in Victorian health settings has increased by a shocking 60 per cent in the past three years.

Data shows assaults in hospitals are also on the rise in Queensland, where there has been a 48 per cent increase, and in NSW, where acts of violence are up by 44 per cent over roughly the same period.

The Victorian Crime Statistics Agency recorded 335 assaults on healthcare premises in 2015 — last year the figure was 539.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research recorded 361 violent incidents in hospitals in 2015 and 521 last year.

In Queensland, the Health Department keeps its own records and encourages the reporting of even relatively minor incidents and threats.

As a result, the overall figures are significantly higher — there were 3,719 in the financial year ending in 2016.

At the end of the last financial year, that figure had climbed to 5,514.

Nurse punched in stomach while pregnant

Lita Olsen wears black and white polka dot shirt Photo: Lita Olsen is part of the Queensland Government unit that works towards tackling occupational violence. (ABC News: Christopher Gillette )

Unfortunately for those health workers we rely on to make us well when we are feeling our worst, this is not an uncommon experience.

"I can honestly say that I don't know a single one of my colleagues who hasn't been exposed, whether it be threatening behaviour, verbal abuse, or physical assaults," said Lita Olsen, an emergency department nurse at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

Ms Olsen, who is part of a Queensland Government unit tackling occupational violence, was herself punched in the stomach by an intoxicated patient while she was pregnant.

Security guards at Ms Olsen's hospital wear body cameras and she thinks they should have more powers to restrain violent patients.

Ms Olsen does not expect security guards to use tasers or arrest patients, but she also thinks a "zero tolerance" policy for violence in hospitals is unrealistic.

"We will never be able to have a zero tolerance, because we have those medical conditions that make people behave in ways that they may not normally behave," she said.

"We're in a profession of caring for people."

Jacqui Pich, a lecturer in nursing at Sydney's University of Technology who has written widely about violence in hospitals, said health professionals have to strike a difficult balance.

"If we have a lot of high-security presence in hospitals, then we're creating almost a prison-like environment rather than a healing and a caring environment," she said.

"We have to be careful to manage that."

Dr Pich said the reasons for the increased violence included illicit drug use, alcohol and mental health issues — and often a combination of all three.

'I don't want this to happen to anyone else'

Felicia Pickham with colleagues at Hervey Bay Hospital Photo: Felicia Pickham (left) was attacked three years ago at Hervey Bay Hospital. (Supplied: Felicia Pickham )

Felicia Pickham wishes there had been a bit more security around her the day she was attacked by a patient at Queensland's Hervey Bay Hospital three years ago.

"I just went to lower the bed rail so he could get into bed. He lashed out and he got me. And my life has forever been changed," Ms Pickham said.

Her attacker was 193cm tall and weighed 130 kilos.

"He's grabbed my arm and he's ripped me up like you'd start a lawnmower, I suppose," she said.

"I think he pulled my arm about seven times."

Ms Pickman has been diagnosed with brachial plexus injury, damage to the nervous system which is typically associated with motorcycle accidents.

She said her right arm was now virtually useless and when coupled with PTSD from the incident, practical nursing duties were impossible.

Ms Pickham has returned to work, but only in a support capacity.

She is pursuing legal action against the hospital for damages.

"I don't want to see anyone go through what I've had to go through," she said.

"[It] has been three years since I've been assaulted. And it's not getting better. It's not going away.

"I just feel that the system needs to change because it is on the rise.

"And I don't want this to happen to anyone else."

Topics: health, healthcare-facilities, occupational-health-and-safety, assault, australia

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