The South Australian nurses union says staff at the Whyalla Hospital are working in an unsafe environment, as the number of violent assaults at the facility reaches new heights.

Key points:

  • Since the start of the year, 22 separate assaults have been reported at the Whyalla Hospital
  • The nurses union says the violence is escalating and staff are frightened to go to work
  • The Government says it is rolling out capital works and a challenging behaviours framework to address the situation

There have been 22 separate assaults reported at the hospital since the start of January, with nurses kicked, bitten and even strangled by patients.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch secretary Elizabeth Dabars said the situation was unprecedented.

“We’re seeing violence occurring and escalating almost on a daily basis, so we are really worried that there’s going to be a really horrendous injury or fatality,” Ms Dabars said.

“We have contacted SafeWork SA and we are calling on urgent action; we are very concerned that a staff member or someone in their care will end up being seriously hurt.

Elizabeth Dabars says the health department’s response has been inadequate.(ABC News)

‘Have not seen measures to put this to an end’

Ms Dabars also said promises by management to deploy more staff and train others in the use of restraints had only compounded the issue.

“We have a commitment in writing from the chief executive officer of the department that would commit to early adoption of the very good policies that the Department of Health already has in their possession,” she said.

“But yet not withstanding all these issues at this particular local health network, we simply have not seen any measures put in place to bring this issue to an end.

“It seems to us whatever has happened has resulted in an increase in the episodes of violence.”

Strategy being rolled out

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the Government was aware of the situation and had been rolling out a strategy to mitigate the risk.

“Whyalla Hospital has been having a problem for some time and one of the enhancements that the Government is undertaking is capital works in the intensive facilities at the hospital,” Mr Wade said.

“There’s already been screens put up so the nurses’ station is more secure; one of the challenges there is that they have two waiting areas, and moving visitors from one to another can lead to risks.

“Right across the SA Health network we’ve been rolling out the challenging behaviours framework to try and reduce the level of violence, and certainly I’ve had active discussions with the union about rolling out that program.”

‘Issue not going away’

Local MP Eddie Hughes said the recent spike was unprecedented and proof the existing strategy had not worked.

“This has been an ongoing issue over a number of years and it’s clearly got worse,” he said.

“I warned the Minister that security needs to be appointed at the Whyalla Hospital and it’s now a matter of urgency.

“I’ve written to the Minister on multiple occasions since 2019, I’ve raised this issue in parliament — we need properly trained, dedicated security guards at the Whyalla Hospital to ensure the safety of staff and patients.

“This issue is not going away.”