PROTECTIVE Services Officers could be trialled at Frankston Hospital to tackle escalating violence in the state’s health care system, under a plan outlined by state opposition leader Matthew Guy.
Guy said that if elected, a Liberal National state government would pay for a two-year trial at five hospitals to support the recruitment, training and deployment of 75 new PSOs to provide around-the-clock support from mobile stations.
The Premier Daniel Andrews said there was no evidence Guy’s PSO trial would solve the problem and a 2011 parliamentary inquiry also recommended against deploying PSOs to hospitals.
Guy said PSOs would be able to respond to calls for back-up and provide immediate support to hospital staff or police to assist with mental health patients or those influenced by drugs and alcohol.
The trial announced by Guy would be implemented at Frankston, Dandenong, Box Hill, Sunshine and Royal Melbourne hospitals.
Hastings resident and former hospital worker Fran Henke told The Times that violence in hospitals – particularly emergency departments – was an ongoing problem.
She said while working at Frankston Hospital 20 years ago, an emergency department doctor had shown her a drawer full of weapons – knives, iron bars, even shards of glass – confiscated from patients.
“Staff and patients do need protection, not just from the drug and alcohol affected, also from those experiencing fear, grief and sheer frustration,” she said.
Guy said the proposal would free up police resources by allowing them to return to normal operational duties.
“We also know that our dedicated healthcare staff often walk lengthy distances to and from their cars at night and early hours of the morning, and sadly, so many have experienced verbal and physical abuse during these times and while carrying out their lifesaving work in wards,” he said.
Guy said the safety of both staff and patients at hospitals was vitally important.
Shadow Minister for Health, Georgie Crozier, said that as a former nurse and midwife, she had experienced and seen what can happen “and it is not okay”.
A parliamentary 2011 parliamentary inquiry into violence and security arrangement at Victorian Hospitals found that appointing PSOs to hospitals would be “contrary to the good management of security in hospitals” and could be a greater safety risk.
The committee investigating the issue noted that violence and aggression toward hospital staff was largely under reported and made a number of recommendations aimed at encouraging reporting and improving data collection.
The committee recommended against using PSOs in hospitals, and in its executive summary noted that security strategies should be underpinned by a “patient focused” approach that draws on interpersonal skills to defuse, minimise and manage aggressive behaviour.
Assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Paul Gilbert, has told the media that the trial would only provide about 3.5 PSOs for each shift across five hospitals, and would not work as a health response.