In the latest of a litany of violent events in north coast public hospitals, a 53-year-old man has been charged after threatening staff at Lismore Base Hospital on Sunday.
According to Health Services Union (HSU) spokesperson Jonathan Milman, a patient admitted through the emergency department threatened ward staff with an ice pick and a machete when he was told that he would have to wait his turn for medication.
The patient also told staff that he had an axe in his bag.
The man was subdued with the assistance of hospital security staff but Mr Milman said they were overstretched and the union is calling for them to be given additional powers, including the ability to search patients and their bags.
The horrifying incident follows close on the heels of an attempt made on the life of a security guard at Tweed Hospital at the end of last year.
‘Two patients attempted to run that security member down in the hospital car park while he was patrolling,’ Mr Milman told ABC radio this morning.
‘When they failed to hit him with the vehicle I understand that they then threatened him with a knife.’
500 violent incidents
Mr Milman said incidents had ‘significantly increased’ over the last year, adding that Tweed hospital staff faced a massive 500 cases of violence and threats of violence in January alone.
He added that most of these could not be entered into the hospital’s incident database due to frequent time-outs.
He blamed a spike in ice use, alcohol abuse and mental health issues as the main triggers.
Mr Milman called for additional hospital security staff, trained to deal with the specific issues faced by staff in hospitals.
‘Lismore Base Hospital has only one security officer rostered on… up until midday… and that is clearly insufficient,’ he said.
Wayne Jones, Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) chief of staff agreed that there has been an increase in violent incidents and threats to staff at the region’s public hospitals but described the figure of 500 at Tweed in January as ‘fanciful’.
He said the figure recorded by the health department was just 20.
Mr Jones accepted that the system used to input the data was problematic but said a new system was being implemented during the year and urged staff to persevere with it in the meantime.
He added he believed the patient who threatened Lismore hospital staff with knives and an axe did not enter the hospital with them but had them ‘delivered to him through another means when he was entered into the ward.’
Mr Jones said the health district had ‘a range of security services available’.
‘We have onsite dedicated security staff; we have health security assistants available to support and back up; we have surge capacity with external consultant security services coming on board. And we “surge up” as required,’ he told ABC.
Mr Jones added that the health district ran its own training program but admitted it has yet to be delivered to external contractors.
He said the role of security staff and the issue of their ability to search patients would be considered at an upcoming a ministerial round table.