The Health Service Union is calling for a review of security in emergency wards across NSW, including at Coffs Harbour Health Campus.
The Health Service Union is calling for a review of security in emergency wards across NSW, including at Coffs Harbour Health Campus. Trevor Veale

Hospital security on thin ice

THE Health Services Union is calling for stronger safety provisions at Coffs Harbour Health Campus amid claims security guards have been unfairly dismissed for trying to restrain violent drug-affected patients.

The HSU said a number of security staff at the hospital's emergency ward have been suspended, asked to relocate or dismissed by NSW Health after receiving formal complaints by patients affected by the drug "ice".

HSU organiser for Coffs Harbour Jonathan Milman said lengthy investigations into complaints often resulted in tough reprimands for staff who intervened in violent incidents.

"Ice brings a whole new level to what security officers are facing and we've been working on unfair dismissal cases made against staff who were doing their job which is to trying to keep people safe," he said.

"Complaints can range from 'they took me down too hard' or 'they moved me to another area I didn't want to go to'.

"It's having a counter-productive effect where security staff are hesitant and are having to make sure a lot more people are with them which means their response time is reduced."

Mid North Coast Local Health District Coffs clinical network coordinator Theresa Beswick would not comment on specific cases, but said policies were in place to manage security and violence.

"MNCLHD takes all patient complaints seriously and assesses them prior to an appropriate investigation commencing," she said.

"Staff are informed of any allegations raised against them… and If patients are not satisfied with the action taken on their complaint, they can refer the complaint to external bodies."

HSU is meanwhile continuing its campaign for increased security staff in hospitals across NSW.

Mr Milman said one permanent security officer was employed at Coffs Harbour's emergency ward in the morning, and two in the afternoon - provisions he described as "completely inadequate."

Increased staffing levels was a key aspect of a 12-point action plan to improve security in NSW hospitals announced by Health Minister Jillian Skinner in February.

The plan was in response to a near fatal shooting in a Penrith Hospital in January and includes a review of legislation to provide legal protection to security staff.

HSU division manager for public health David Perry welcomed the review, but said action was needed sooner rather than later.

He added that the policy of employing external security agencies on needs-basis was not working.

"Security staff only have the same powers as a general citizen to retain, detain or search which means they're risking their life and job because they have no legal protection," he said.

"The Health Services Act needs to be changed to allow staff to do their job."



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