Shellharbour wardsperson backs call for boost to hospital security

Support for security: Shellharbour Hospital chief wardsperson, and union spokesman, Michael Twyford says security staff need more backup. Picture: Adam McLean
Support for security: Shellharbour Hospital chief wardsperson, and union spokesman, Michael Twyford says security staff need more backup. Picture: Adam McLean

Being punched, scratched and spat on is unfortunately part of the job for hospital wardsperson Michael Twyford.

That’s why the Health Services Union sub-branch president for Shellharbour Hospital is backing his union’s campaign for more support for security staff.

HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said the campaign aimed to ensure that hospitals were safe for all.

‘’We urgently need new protocols for the handover of violent patients to hospitals. Security officers must not be left alone to deal with violent, drug addicted patients.

‘’Real time monitoring of CCTV also needs to be rolled out across the state, so that when there is a problem, staff can react faster and in greater number,’’ he said.

‘’We need at least 200 extra public hospital security officers statewide, and a commitment to end outsourcing and privatisation.’’

Mr Twyford, chief wardsperson at Shellharbour Hospital, forms part of the response team to help security guards when there’s a critical incident.

‘’You might get six police officers bringing in a highly aggressive person in handcuffs – once triaged that patient is left with two security guards who have none of the powers or resources the police have,’’ he said.

‘’I’ve witnessed numerous assaults during my 24 years as an employee of the health system. I’ve been hit several times, I’ve been left scratched and bleeding, I’ve had people spit in my face.’’

Mr Twyford said the situation was getting worse, with a rise in aggressive patients due to mental health, alcohol and drug abuse issues. 

He said Shellharbour Hospital staff were concerned conditions could deteriorate further if a public-private partnership went ahead.

‘’We’re worried that a private provider would cut security staff further, and not invest in ongoing training.’’

In August a NSW parliamentary inquiry into violence against emergency service workers, including hospital security, made 47 recommendations for safety. The HSU said none had been implemented.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he had met with unions and security officers.

 ‘’(The minister) discussed how to strike the right balance between keeping medical and security staff safe and at the same time ensure patients are treated appropriately in a medical environment,’’ she said.

‘’There are a variety of views within the unions and among frontline staff as to whether or not it’s appropriate for additional measures such as batons and mace.’’

A NSW Health spokesperson said there were more than 3000 CCTV cameras in operation in the state’s public hospitals, while a $19 million investment on capital works to improve hospital security was underway.

‘’Much of this work will improve access controls between public and staff areas and perimeter controls, including upgrading CCTV to provide live images and installing remote locking to public access doors,’’ the spokesperson said.

Meantime local health districts were currently reviewing security staffing based on risk assessments.

‘’NSW Health will continue discussions with key stakeholders, including the HSU and districts, to identify strategies to aid the creation of a pool of skilled staff who can undertake the security role in regional and rural facilities,’’ the spokesperson said.

This year, NSW Health has worked with NSW Police to update and improve the protocols governing the handover of violent patients. The government was also working on the response to the recommendations of the parliamentary enquiry into the safety of emergency workers.

Illawarra Mercury