Violence is unacceptable in any workplace. No one should have to feel unsafe going to work.

And yet there are more than 1000 nurses across Australia who have experienced violence during their shifts in over a three-month period.

A recent survey found that Queensland nurses in aged care facilities are exposed to more violence than nurses in other major cities, along with remote or regional hospitals.

The research team was made up of a number of different universities, as well as the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union.

Surveying of 2397 nurses and midwives, this was the sixth study of QNMU members that provided an overview of working conditions and the well-being of a cohort of nurses across multiple sectors.

1156 of those surveyed said they had experienced workplace violence in the three months prior to the 2016 survey.

That 48 per cent is an increase from the 40 per cent reported similar experiences in 2001.

Another statistic released by WorkSafe Victoria showed that up to 95% of healthcare workers, most being nurses, aged care workers and paramedics, have experienced verbal or physical assault while on the the job.

Examples of work-related violence can include:

  • aggressive gestures or expressions such as eye rolling and sneering
  • verbal abuse such as yelling, swearing and name calling
  • intimidating physical behaviour such as standing in a healthcare worker’s personal space or standing over them
  • physical assault such as biting, spitting, scratching, pushing, shoving, tripping and grabbing
  • extreme acts of violence and aggression such as hitting, punching, strangulation, kicking, personal threats, threats with weapons, sexual assault.

This latest QNMU survey revealed that violence against nurses and midwives was worse in aged care facilities and remote or regional hospitals than in large regional centres or major cities.

In the report, Your Work, Your Time, Your Life, lead researcher Desley Hegney said that there was a “rising exposure” to occupational violence and a “perceived lack of real action” by managers.

Presenting at the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union conference, Hegney explained that “patients, clients and residents were the most frequent perpetrators”.

“Relatives were more frequently the perpetrators in the Acute Public sector than in other sectors – maybe reflecting the demographics of the patients however, in aged care – public or private – there was very little difference.

“After patients and relatives, doctors and other nurses/midwives were more frequently the perpetrators in the Acute Private sector.”

QNMU secretary Beth Mohle highlighted the challenges that many nurses face in aged care, stating that “everyone is ignoring the crisis that is aged care”.

“Aged care has issues (of violence) with regards to dealing with dementia…and the critical issue for both settings is staff levels and skill mix in those areas,” she said.

“We have national independent research that was released in December last year that identifies that for the average resident in aged care, there is a deficit of one and a half hours a day.”

“There are some aged care facilities that don’t even have registered nurse coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

“The levels of staffing numbers…is currently appalling right now and it needs urgent attention.”

“What is required is 30 per cent of registered workforce, 20 per cent of enrolled nurse and 50 per cent of personal care attendants…we are nowhere near that.”

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