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Hospitals could face rise in prosecutions for failing to protect nurses: lawyer

Health departments are risking an uptick in compensation claims if they don't take steps to ensure staff safety.

That’s the warning from an injury compensation lawyer and former emergency department nurse.

Following reports that Caboolture Hospital Mental Health Unit staff are afraid to go to work after a string of assaults by patients on staff, Trent Johnson said: “Not only at Caboolture, but around the state, Queensland Health is aware its staff regularly face real risk of injury just doing their job, and what’s happening demands a tougher response from it.”

Johnson, now a director with Queensland law firm Bennett & Philp Lawyers, spent four years working as a registered nurse at Caboolture Hospital. He said: “It’s a sad reflection on today’s society that frontline staff – including administration, doctors, nurses and security – cannot perform their work without risk of injury from physical and verbal assault.

“If Queensland Health fails to take proper steps to ensure its staff can safely do their work without being abused and assaulted, it can expect to receive plenty more compensation claims against it.”

Johnson added that hospitals also face increasing insurance premiums and the risk of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland prosecutions.

“Unions have been pushing for safe and better working conditions for hospital staff,” he said.

“It is time for Queensland Health to actively work with the unions and the Queensland Police Service to implement tough measures to prevent workplace assaults and ensure emergency response and hospital staff can carry out their duties safely at all times.”

Johnson encouraged hospital staff injured by violent patients to press criminal charges and pursue claims for damages where possible against those responsible for the assaults.

“The injured staff member should also lodge a workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible after the event, so they can receive appropriate and early treatment.

“In many instances they may also be able to sue their employer for any ongoing injuries and loss due to the employer’s failure to provide a safe working environment, failing to provide adequate staffing, failing to have regard to prior history of aggressive behaviour of particular patients and so on.

“In those circumstances, it is important to make an early report so supporting evidence can be preserved,” he said.

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