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Violence a reality for NT nurses

Bullying, abuse and unemployment throw a dark shadow over the Northern Territory’s nursing industry. By Aileen Macalintal

Despite a ‘zero tolerance’ stance on bullying and harassment in the workplace, the Northern Territory government seems to be failing to protect nurses by not following through on its own policies. But it’s not the only problem facing members of this occupation.

Nursing Review asked Australia Nursing Federation Northern Territory (ANFNT) branch secretary Yvonne Falckh to elaborate on the challenges that NT nurses are facing. She said that disrespect toward nurses and job placement issues are among the main concerns facing the industry in the territory.

“We are receiving more and more complaints from our staff members, citing that they are being bullied by management and more senior staff,” said Falckh.

“The government has policy on zero tolerance to bullying and harassment, but it is our view that the policy tends to be not worth anything, because what’s written down on paper is not being followed through,” she said.

“It’s really getting worse and we’re not seeing it’s being followed through suitably.”

She says the ANFNT has received numerous reports about nurses being picked on repeatedly and being rudely addressed. While on one hand, nurses suffer from abuse and harassment from senior staff, on the other, they may also experience aggression and violence from patients and or their families.

Falckh said there has been a steady annual increase in reported assaults, as well as other problems in occupational health and safety, and ANFNT members are among the victims. She said there are areas where there is little to no respect for nurses and it is not unusual for them to be abused, whether verbally or physically.

Another issue that’s troubling the territory’s nurses is that a number of Northern Territory nursing graduates are not gaining employment over graduates from other states or overseas, due to merit-based recruitment.

“We have people who live locally and completed their degree as registered nurses, only to find that they haven’t got a job because they haven’t been given a new grad placement,” she said.

Job placements are based on merit, and as Falckh points out, there seems to be no priority given to hiring permanent or local residents, a fact which she finds “very concerning”.

Some unemployed nurses work filling shelves at the supermarket, or as a cashier at the local petrol station. “They do things other than nursing, and we can’t afford that. We are too under-staffed in the future to allow that to happen.”

“At this stage, I don’t see these issues being addressed by the NT government,”

To best deal with these problems, ANFNT is scrutinising each political party’s health policies, ensuring their members are informed of what the policies are, while the federation continues working on ways to address reports of bullying, aggression, and unemployment.

“We will ensure our members are informed of what the industrial landscape will be in the future under a Liberal coalition government,” she said.

In response to the problems observed in the territory, NT health minister Robyn Lambley said the Territory government is working alongside the health industry to solve these issues.

“The Department of Health regularly meets with internal and external stakeholders from clinical services, the education sector, non-government health service providers and the Australian Nursing Federation to ensure an informed and strategic approach to nursing and midwifery issues is adopted,” said Lambley.

A redeveloped Department of Health role – the director of Nursing and Midwifery Education and Research, will enhance cross sector collaboration and responsiveness to education and research issues relating to nursing and midwifery practice.

“In line with our ‘grow your own’ workforce policy, new processes are being implemented for the 2013–14 graduate nurse program intakes to ensure that the merit-based selection also prioritises local residents,” she said.

The minister said it is pleasing that a range of services in the Territory currently have a full complement of nursing and midwifery staff. “However, this creates an issue for interstate nurses and midwives who make enquiries about employment in the NT on a daily basis,” she said.

“Potential recruits are being informed that there are no positions in specific areas, while other areas continue to face difficulties in recruiting new staff. Hence we are investing in speciality skills development for nurses and midwives.”

Commenting on another grave issue, violence, she said the department has a well-publicised zero tolerance policy on aggression.

“Unfortunately aggression and violence in hospitals is a national issue, and the Department of Health is constantly looking at ways of reducing incidents of violence in its health service.”

She said hospital staff are actively encouraged to report any incidents or threats of violence. Also, regular monthly ‘aggression management training’ is conducted with all frontline staff to help them deal with such behaviour.

In addition, the Department of Health observes the principles of the Northern Territory government-wide anti-bullying strategy, said Lambley.

Among their strategies against workplace bullying and harassment are awareness sessions and training for staff, as well as a robust human resource management system, which provides pathways for staff to address these concerns.

“The NT government understands that nurses and midwives want to work in a service environment which enables them to deliver responsive and appropriate care,” said the minister.

“Nursing and midwifery are pivotal professions within Northern Territory health services. As we transition to the new services framework, senior nursing and midwifery staff will contribute at a strategic and operational level across all services.”

Part of NT’s strategic development in the future is to implement initiatives that provide a way to facilitate the transition between acute, community, primary health care and remote sectors.

“In this way, we propose to enhance opportunities for recruiting and retaining nurses and midwives, capitalising on the outcomes of graduate nurse/midwife programs and enhancing ‘grow your own’ initiatives.

“It is expected that nursing and midwifery education, workforce development and clinical nursing and midwifery researchers will be increasingly active in the these specialised fields and will contribute to new knowledge for health services that is relevant for health services both nationally and internationally,” said the minister.

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