An external review starting this month will determine whether round-the-clock security guards will remain at two regional hospitals after a string of violent incidents last year.  

Yorke and Northern Local Health Network chief executive Roger Kirchner told the ABC a recent staff survey found staff at Wallaroo Hospital and Port Pirie Regional Health Service felt “positively” about the presence of security.

“We intend to conduct further surveys, as well as engage with community and other stakeholders as part of the external review of security,” Mr Kirchner said.

In September 2023, security guards were employed at the two hospitals for six months. This has been extended until the end of May while the review is underway.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch chief executive Adjunct Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars said the union welcomed the review and the security personnel were essential.

“If you have an environment where people are lashing out and being abusive, whether physically or verbally, then you’ve got to deal with the symptoms,” she said.

“From our perspective, that does mean you need to have people who are physically present in order to provide a deterrent effect and physically present to intervene in the event that people are lashing out.”

Elizabeth Dabars says adequate security is important to attract and retain staff.(ABC North and West SA: Christian Cominos)

The union lobbied for additional security measures last year after a number of incidents, including when a man allegedly smashed 10 glass panels at the entrance of Wallaroo Hospital, causing “significant terror and upset” to patients and workers. 

In June, 2023, two nurses and three doctors were injured by a patient experiencing an episode of psychosis at Port Pirie hospital.

Ms Dabars said security was important at a time when attracting and retaining health staff in regional areas was an issue.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to encourage them to come and stay,” she said.

“And that includes ensuring that they know their personal health and safety is front of mind and paramount.”

Member for Narungga Fraser Ellis said he had been told by nurses at Wallaroo Hospital they felt safer at work and he hoped the review concluded with security becoming a permanent fixture.

“We haven’t heard as many reports of violence or destruction coming from the Wallaroo Hospital since they’ve been on the trial there,” he said.

Calls for security at Port Pirie Regional Health Service were prompted by a series of violent incidents last year.(ABC News: Christian Cominos)

If 24/7 security is implemented, Mr Ellis wants to see the guards trained to complete orderly tasks during times when there’s a risk of low violence.

“With so much to do around the hospital, it would make sense to perform other tasks like wheeling beds around or moving supplies to areas that they’re needed,” Mr Ellis said.

“I think that will provide greater bang for buck for the taxpayer who are funding these guards, and also mean that they’re not suffering from boredom as much.”