Ice to blame for increasing assaults at our local hospitals

A SURGE in ice and steroids has been blamed for the tripling of patient assaults on staff at the Ballina Hospital over the past five years.

Figures released under Government Information Public Access show 12 staff were physically assaulted by patients during the 2014/15 financial year.

Surge in assaults

In comparison, only four incidents of patient on staff assaults were recorded on the hospital's Incident Management System in 2010/11.

Northern NSW Health Service Union (HSU) organiser Jonathan Milman said the increase in drug-fuelled assaults on staff was a serious concern for hospitals across the Northern Rivers.

"The strength and level of aggression of patients on these drugs, ice and steroids, is phenomenal," he said.

"Our members describe it as a rage, an adrenaline-fuelled rage that is unpredictable.

Examples of assaults

"At Ballina there's been patients trying to kick their way into the hospital.

"At Lismore a patient became very violent, very aggressive… (and), as a result of that a doctor was quite severely assaulted. She had chunks of hair torn from her scalp and two female nurses were assaulted by a singular patient.

"One of our members at Byron Hospital was severely assaulted twice in one year. To summarise the assault, a person has grabbed his thumbs and has twisted them completely 180 degrees backwards."

Northern NSW Local Health District CEO Chris Crawford said despite the increase, the number and severity of the assaults remained low.

Diligence needed in reporting

"The Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) has encouraged staff to be diligent in the reporting of incidents of aggression towards staff by patients," he said.

"As a result of this improved reporting it became apparent, regrettably, that there has been an increase in aggressive behaviour at the Ballina District Hospital towards the staff.

"It is noted that the number of incidents is still low and their severity level is moderate to low."

Mr Crawford said the Health District urged staff to undertake additional violence prevention training to identify and more quickly respond to any indications of possible confrontational behaviour in patients.

Low security staffing

Mr Milman said the biggest safety concern was low levels of staffing.

"Our biggest concern is Northern NSW is not staffing hospitals appropriately with security staff and certainly not staffing appropriately in line with the significant increase of predominantly drug related aggression and violence," he said.

"(At Ballina) there's one male staff member with a security license to generally three nursing staff in the whole of the facility."

The Health District said the number of people presenting to emergency under the influence of ice was unknown as patients were treated for their injury and not the cause.


2010/11: 4 (1 SAC3 and 3 SAC4)

2011/12: 5 (2 SAC3 and 3 SAC4)

2012/13: 5 (3 SAC3 and 2 SAC 4)

2013/14: 12 (9 SAC3 and 3 SAC4)

2014/15: 12 (1 SAC 2, 9 SAC3 and 2 SAC4)

SAC: Security Assessment Code.

SAC 1: Incidents which result in the permanent injury or hospitalisation of a staff member.

SAC 2: Incidents which result in medical expenses, lost time or restricted duties or injury.

SAC 3: Incidents that require first aid treatment only with no time lost or restricted duties.

SAC 4: Incidents that result in no injury.

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