Capsicum foam one option to make NSW hospitals safer, review finds

Strike action: Wollongong Hospital HSU members took part in a statewide stoppage in 2019. HSU regional organiser Mark Jay (centre) says more staff are urgently needed. Pictures: Adam McLean
Strike action: Wollongong Hospital HSU members took part in a statewide stoppage in 2019. HSU regional organiser Mark Jay (centre) says more staff are urgently needed. Pictures: Adam McLean

A trial of capsicum foam for hospital security staff to deal with violent situations is among the recommendations of a statewide safety review.

A major Illawarra hospital was of the 49 facilities visited by former NSW health and police minister Peter Anderson as part of the review released this week.

In the report, Mr Anderson said by far the most "vexed issue considered" concerned the equipment issued to security staff.

"There are recent examples of persons being armed with a knife or machete in an ED that fortunately, have not manifested into a worst case scenario and the situation has been managed by security and other staff, and police," he stated.

He concluded that items like batons, handcuffs, tasers and capsicum spray were not acceptable in a hospital setting. However he recommended a trial of equipment such as a single plastic flexible cuff tie - to restrain a patient's hands in front of them - and capsicum foam.

There were 107 recommendations in the review, and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said NSW Health would now work with staff, unions and other government agencies to see them implemented.

Other recommendations included the need to better protect staff, which included ensure better compliance with the wearing of personal duress alarms for emergency department staff.

There was also a need to better design and construct treatment spaces to improve staff and patient safety, and the need to improve access to mental health assessments.

It was also recommended that clinicians, allied health staff and security officers act as a team when faced with the threat of, or actual violence.

Mr Hazzard said he would introduce additional measures, such as ensuring local health districts significantly reduced their use of contract security staff and invested in permanent staff members.

He'd also be working to get enhanced security numbers in the emergency departments of some rural and regional hospitals.

Illawarra hospital security staff have long pushed for the NSW Government to invest in hospital security, and increase staff numbers and powers.

At the time HSU organiser for Wollongong Hospital Mark Jay said: "Our emergency departments are turning into war zones due to rapid population increases and the changing landscape, which includes a rise in ice addiction".

This week HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes welcomed the review, and said the union would hold NSW Health accountable to implement the reforms.

"For the last two decades hospitals have become increasing violent, dangerous places to work," he said.

"Our members have been kicked, punched, shot, and stabbed. Just last month, a security assistant at Port Macquarie Hospital had a chunk of flesh torn from his torso when a patient bit him.

"This report is a long overdue recognition of the violent horror that hospital workers confront. It should prompt better powers, better defensive tools and most critically, the employment of extra permanent security officers.

"Security officers must be empowered to defend themselves and public safety and have the capacity to de-escalate a situation."

This story Capsicum foam considered for hospital security staff first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.