Insiders detail nurse assaults
Mental health nurses in the ACT have warned that their lives are at risk from patient assaults.
Assaults on staff have left several nurses seeking emergency treatment this year.
There were 129 assaults on staff working across Canberra's mental health, justice health and drug and alcohol sectors between January 2017 and July 2018.
Two nurses at the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit have spoken anonymously to ABC reporters, saying staff are scared to go to work and that management is not paying attention.
“I've seen hot drinks thrown at nurses, I've heard of where nurses … were kicked in the head,” one nurse alleged.
“I don't feel safe at all going there.
“If things keep going the way they're going, somebody is going to die.”
The second nurse likened violence in the unit to drunken street fighting.
“There were people physically bashed and kicked — quite badly — and hurt,” he said.
“And not only the physical [pain], then of course the psychological [pain happens] later.”
The nurses said the way management responds to incidents often inflicts the most damage.
“It's minimising the assaults; coming in and saying; ‘Let's forget about that, let's move on’,” she said.
“You feel like you're out on your own. If you get assaulted, so what? That's what it feels like for the nurses. They [management] don't want to hear it, they want it to go away.
“Senior nurses can be at times paralysed to make decisions because they're unsure, will they be backed up?
The Government put on two extra security guards at Dhulwa as an interim measure following assaults earlier this year.
ACT public mental health service director Tina Bracher said the authorities take assault reports seriously.
“I feel sick in the stomach when I hear that staff have been assaulted as part of their work,” she said.
“No staff member should feel unsafe in their workplace or be injured.”
The ACT Government is preparing a “nurse safety strategy”, which will include hiring a dedicated safety nurse at both Dhulwa and The Canberra Hospital's Adult Mental Health Unit.
“They'll be a very skilled mental health nurse, so [they'll be] teaching and training the new staff, doing assessments of the patients … being able to debrief,” Ms Bracher said.
“We are travelling a journey. We have got a high-risk environment, we have got new staff and we are working with those new staff to upskill them and our management team in order to provide a safe and effective clinical environment.”