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Remote staff feel intimidated by peers

Initial findings from the ‘Working safe in rural and remote Australia’ project have been released.

One in three rural and remote health workers are concerned about bullying or harassment by colleagues, a national survey on workplace violence has found.

Health professionals were notably more likely than police and teachers to identify their colleagues as a safety concern.

While previous attention has primarily focused on patient-initiated violence, the report called for further research into violence perpetrated by colleagues and peers. The Working safe in rural and remote Australia project surveyed 600 health workers, police and educators to understand the problem of workplace violence in rural and remote Australia. Of the 600 responses nearly 60 per cent were from health professionals.

Carole Taylor, chief executive of the Council of Remote Area Nurses Australia (CRANAplus), said the finding was significant and corroborated similar evidence. “The biggest stressors in remote health are management and clinical relationships,” she told Nursing Review.

She said nurses in remote areas often worked in very small teams in isolated environments and frequently in shared accommodation. High turnover of staff also made it difficult to build co-operation across the health sector.

In addition to their peers, 43 per cent of health professionals said they were concerned about verbal abuse from the public. Nurses and doctors reported feeling most vulnerable when working long and unsociable hours and as a solo practitioner, and half of all respondents said their safety concerns led to increased stress and anxiety.

The report said addressing some of these safety concerns would help health workers to remain longer in their roles.

Taylor said she was concerned that many nurses were inadequately prepared to work in the outback and that CRANAplus would soon release a set of employer standards for the comprehensive preparation of health workers. “While it is expensive to train people, we believe it is a serious investment in the future of remote health workforce. If health professionals are well prepared they are more likely to have a good experience, stay in their jobs or return at a later time in their careers.”

CRANAplus is working with the Australian Nursing Federation, Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, police services and education bodies on the project.

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