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The annual NSW HSU delegates conference, Sydney. Photo: Conor Burke.

‘No other alternative’: HSU approves strike action

The NSW branch of the Hospital Services Union today unanimously voted to take industrial action across all NSW hospitals over concern for health workers' safety.

At the annual delegates conference, the vote was carried unanimously by the 500 members in attendance.

“I am sick to death of a situation where you go to a hospital to be looked after, to be cared for and you become a patient. You don’t become a patient because of your illness, you become a patient because you’ve been assaulted,” said a fired-up HSU secretary Gerard Hayes.

“We’ve got so many members here who go to work every day who are entitled to have a safe workplace. Who go to work to look after people, to care for people to make sure people are okay.

“But what happens? They get stabbed, they get shot. They get punched, they get spat upon.”

Hayes continued to rattle off incidents in which hospital staff have been assaulted to cries of “shame”.

It isn’t only HSU members Hayes said, the union is fighting for the “nurses who are being assaulted, nurses who are being stabbed,” and the doctors who are “copping the same treatment”.

Representatives for paramedics and security guards appeared alongside Hayes at a press conference. They told journalists that they back action as they feel they shouldn’t have to worry about “having their backs turned on the job,” for fear of being attacked.

The paramedic recalled an incident where she had to remove a patient from an unsafe situation.

“The emergency department was unsafe, the patient felt unsafe. And we felt that the only option we had to be able to continue caring for the patient at the level they deserve, was to remove them from the emergency department and to the back of the ambulance.”

She told those gathered that state-wide ambulance services are considering this as a standard response to unsafe situations that may arise in the future.

The spokesperson for security guards said that he and his colleagues face violent drug-affected patients “every single day”.

“I have the attitude that I want to come home in the same condition I left,” he said.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research recorded 361 violent incidents in hospitals in 2015 and 521 last year.

The union is asking for improved security measures across NSW hospitals and Hayes called out the parliamentarians in “Macquarie Street” where they have “special constables all over the place”.

Hayes said that security needs an overhaul, with more funding, resourcing and training essential.

Hayes asked the delegates to vote on a resolution to “stop for 4 hours on the 1st of August 2019, and to continue to take such action until the NSW Government solves this problem for good and ensures the safety of health workers and the public”.

Not one attendee voted against the resolution.

A spokesperson from NSW Health said in a statement: "Data from workers compensation claims shows that since 2016 the number of injuries to staff from assaults has continued to decrease.

"NSW Health will seek the assistance of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to resolve any planned industrial action by the HSU. There has been an increase in security staff across NSW from 974 full-time equivalent staff in 2010 to 1243 in 2018.

"The safety of staff, patients and visitors to NSW public hospitals is paramount; there is never an excuse for violence in NSW Health facilities."

This will be the first time the HSU has taken this type of action, and Hayes warned it won’t be the last. When asked how he sees the action affecting services, he said that it “will slow the hospital system dramatically” as over 50 per cent of hospital workers are non-clinical staff.

"We don’t want people to walk off the job, we don’t want to limit services,” Hayes said, “but we now have no other alternative”.

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