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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