Security in question as five nurses assaulted at John Hunter Hospital

HAZARDS: A patient attacked eight staff at John Hunter Hospital. Picture: Brock Perks
HAZARDS: A patient attacked eight staff at John Hunter Hospital. Picture: Brock Perks

POLICE are investigating after a patient assaulted eight people, including five nurses, before having to be sedated in the emergency department of John Hunter Hospital.

The 18-year-old was brought into the hospital by ambulance about 7.10pm on June 29 after punching a window at a house in Charlestown.

The Newcastle Herald understands that, as a nurse began stitching a cut to the man's hand, he sat up in bed and then chased her into another room.

The man, who police said had developmental and mental health problems, cornered the woman and started hitting her as other nurses came to her aid.

The incident has raised concerns about hospital security and the way staff are advised of potential risks.

The Herald has been told the man had previously assaulted a nurse, but emergency staff were not notified of his history when he arrived.

The man attacked five nurses - four female and one male - as well as a security guard, a paramedic and an elderly female patient.

An emergency department doctor was forced to sedate the man and he was taken by police to the mental health unit at the Mater hospital.

Several nursing staff required medical treatment and a female nurse had to be hospitalised.

All five were sent home after the incident, leaving the night shift in the emergency department three nurses short. Several nurses missed shifts and some are only just returning to work. 

A Newcastle City police spokesman confirmed they were investigating the incident. The hospital and Hunter New England Health are undertaking their own  investigation.

NSW Nurses Association Hunter organiser Matt Byrne said the patient’s history of violence would have been recorded on his electronic medical record.

‘‘If this is not readily identifiable within the hospital’s database then that is something that could be included in any review of the incident,’’ Mr Byrne said.

‘‘Usually emergency departments are so incredibly busy that the reason for presentation is all staff have time to deal with, rather than wade through records about what occurred in the past.’’

Mr Byrne said the union had several concerns about security and emergency protocols at the hospital.

‘‘Nurses within John Hunter Hospital’s emergency department do not perform mandatory aggression management training as nurses would working in mental health specialties,’’ Mr Byrne said. ‘‘This should be reviewed as part of the investigation into this incident.

‘‘Also, there were insufficient duress alarms for nursing staff. 

‘‘This is really dangerous where nurses are working in isolation – behind closed doors or curtains. 

‘‘Another concerns is those nurses who were injured were not replaced and the unit worked three nurses short for the entire night shift. This is really disturbing. Nurses tried to initiate the internal disaster protocol but to no avail.

‘‘Unless there is a dead body, it will continue to be production first and safety second in NSW Health. 

‘‘Finally, the on-call executive did not respond to this incident until some hours afterwards.’’

He said the state government’s decision to close publicly run large-group residences at Stockton, Morisset and Tomaree would result in an increase in presentations to the John Hunter of this nature. 

John Hunter Hospital’s  director of nursing in the critical care service, Julie Tait, said duress alarms and security at the hospital were adequate and staff were well trained in dealing with threats of violence or violent acts. However, with 70,000 patients admitted to the hospital a year, the occasional incident would occur, she said.

Ms Tait said she was ‘‘proud and impressed’’ with the professionalism shown by staff during the incident. 

She said those affected by the incident had been offered free counselling, and a debrief on the protocols would take place. 

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