The Victorian Psychologists Association is very concerned that an assault on a psychiatrist at the Thomas Embling Hospital (TEH) on 20 October is just the latest in a series of incidents at Forensicare in which clinical staff have been assaulted by patients in the course of their duties.
The Auditor General handed down a report on occupational violence experienced by health workers in Victoria in May 2015. In that report the Auditor General says that WorkSafe has been slow to identify occupational violence in the health sector and rarely uses its inspection or enforcement tools to address incidents of occupational violence.
And in August the County Court found that Forensicare was in breach of its duty of care to provide a reasonably safe place of work and a safe system of work to the employee of a contractor. Forensicare had failed to recognise that the use and placement of a plastic water jug on a ledge in an acute unit at The Thomas Embling Hospital was unsafe and potentially risky. The employee was injured when endeavouring to restrain a patient who had thrown the plastic water jug at a nurse.
The Victorian Workcover Authority (WorkSafe) must immediately undertake a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the incidence of occupation violence at TEH and ensure that Forensicare acts to protect workers’ safety.
The response from Forensicare to assaults on psychologists has been reactive and defensive. And Forensicare is still placing clinicians in danger by not properly assessing and mitigating risks while WorkSafe is looking the other way. It’s clear that Forensicare feels no pressure to alter its approach to occupational violence risk.
Not even the judgement in August in the County Court, which rejected Forensicare’s view that the therapeutic advantage to patients of a particular practice outweighed its duty of care to staff in assessing potential risks, seems to be enough for Forensicare to protect workers’ safety.
The VPA’s view is that it is not an either/or situation between taking a therapeutic approach and protecting clinician safety. It is possible to design systems and processes that both reduce and manage risks to staff safety and provide a therapeutic environment for patients.
The VPA calls on the Minister for Mental Health to initiate an urgent inquiry by WorkSafe into unacceptable levels of occupational violence at the Thomas Embling Hospital and other Forensicare sites, to ensure that Forensicare meets its duty of care to staff and that the incidence of occupational violence is mitigated.