Why hospital security guards say they can’t stop violence

There are calls for special constables to be installed in Australian health facilities as confronting footage of the violence faced by health employees continues to emerge.

As reported by Channel 9 in Australia, disturbing footage captured in a Sydney mental health intensive seven years ago was given to A Current Affair to illustrate the prolonged trauma facing security guards in Australian hospitals.

Multiple guards and medicos use a bedsheet to restrain and bring down a violent patient.

It takes multiple people to hold him down and medicate him, before he is tied to a stretcher and wheeled away.

Former security guard Warren Browne paints an equally ugly picture of his last day on the job, when his shoulder was ripped out by a drug addict at Hornsby Hospital in Sydney's north.

In this footage, multiple personnel are needed to hold a violent patient down and medicate him. (A Current Affair)

"I held him for 20 minutes while he tried to wipe his blood on me," he said.

"I couldn't restrain him. He's on ice."

Mr Browne stands 6'4" and weighs 120 kilograms, and has worked as a bouncer and a security guard since he was 18 - including in some "very rough pubs".

By his own admission, he's had more fights than many of us have had hot dinners.

Ex-security guard Warren Browne painted an ugly picture of the violence he faced on the job. (A Current Affair)

Nonetheless, he said, he is still scared of confronting an ice addict.

"They are superman," he said.

"I personally broke a guy's thumb on ice and he didn't feel it."

But what frightens Mr Browne the most, is the power security guards in public hospitals have lost.

Violence faced by hospital workers and security guards is on the rise. (A Current Affair)

He said currently, hospital security personnel were as ill-equipped as those watching the door at our supermarkets.

"It's just luck that people haven't been killed yet," he said.

In more footage broadcast on A Current Affair tonight, from 2017, a man armed with a meat cleaver was recorded walking into an emergency department - a young child just metres away.

The man enters the triage, pushing the door shut behind him and cornering the nurse inside.

A man with a cleaver raises his weapon at hospital staff. (A Current Affair)

Waiting patients become concerned as the man is seen raising his weapon at staff.

In that kind of situation, Mr Browne said, all he would be able to do would be to move people to a safe place.

"My presence is about all you can expect," he said.

Another former hospital security guard, Rob Dykstra, used to be equipped with a baton and handcuffs.

Former security guard Rob Dystra said he had been equipped with a baton and handcuffs. (A Current Affair)

"Even though you don't use them on a nightly basis or daily basis, they were there for a deterrent," he said.

"And they were there if you really, really needed them."

In the past, special constables once patrolled public hospitals, provided with the power to arrest people if needed.

Union bosses across Australia are pleading with governments to stop putting politics and money ahead of protecting people.

There are calls for special constables to return to hospital halls. (A Current Affair)

Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said it would be cheaper to proactively invest to prevent the problem.

He is campaigning for 250 special constables to be employed in New South Wales hospitals alone.

"If you go to Parliament House, there are special constables protecting politicians," he said.

"If you go to hospitals, you have people with security licenses who do not have authority to actually touch or manhandle, restrain or detain people."

In a statement to A Current Affair, NSW Health said a review into hospital security is underway - but so far it has found special constables would not be appropriate or safe.

Health bosses also argue more than 3000 security cameras are in operation, and the number of guards has increased by 25 per cent in the past decade.

The stats

As reported back in mid June by ABC channel, data shows assaults in hospitals are also on the rise in Queensland, where there has been a 48 per cent increase, and in NSW, where acts of violence are up by 44 per cent over roughly the same period.

The Victorian Crime Statistics Agency recorded 335 assaults on healthcare premises in 2015 — last year the figure was 539.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research recorded 361 violent incidents in hospitals in 2015 and 521 last year.

In Queensland, the Health Department keeps its own records and encourages the reporting of even relatively minor incidents and threats.

As a result, the overall figures are significantly higher — there were 3,719 in the financial year ending in 2016.

At the end of the last financial year, that figure had climbed to 5,514.

Nurse punched in stomach while pregnant

PHOTO: Lita Olsson is part of the Queensland Government unit that works towards tackling occupational violence. (ABC News: Christopher Gillette )

Ms Olsson, who is part of a Queensland Government unit tackling occupational violence, was herself punched in the stomach by an intoxicated patient while she was pregnant.

Unfortunately for those health workers we rely on to make us well when we are feeling our worst, this is not an uncommon experience.

"I can honestly say that I don't know a single one of my colleagues who hasn't been exposed, whether it be threatening behaviour, verbal abuse, or physical assaults," said Lita Olsson, an emergency department nurse at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

Security guards at Ms Olsson's hospital wear body cameras and she thinks they should have more powers to restrain violent patients.

Ms Olsson does not expect security guards to use tasers or arrest patients, but she also thinks a "zero tolerance" policy for violence in hospitals is unrealistic.

"We will never be able to have a zero tolerance, because we have those medical conditions that make people behave in ways that they may not normally behave," she said.

Insert your tweetable quote/phrase here

Click to Tweet
Steven Morrison

32 years Door Supervisor, Subject Matter Expert, Expert Witness (Scotland), Physical Restraint, Use of Force/Self Defence.