Shooting up in the emergency department

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Hospital safety is in the news this week — in the form of renewed calls to arm Victoria’s emergency department security guards with handguns.

(Let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that the biggest threat to safety in hospitals is actually under-staffing.)

The story kicked off when the Herald Sun newspaper quoted the Victorian secretary of the Health Services Union, which represents hospital guards, saying her members wanted the same weapons as Armaguard staff.

It’s an explosive issue. Anecdotally, it seems, violence in emergency departments is on the rise. This has been linked to factors like stimulant drug abuse, and alcohol abuse.

Yesterday, a carefully-worded editorial from the Herald Sun rehashed these concerns and editorialised in favour of “hav[ing] this debate”, but stopped short of explicitly supporting the proposal to arm guards.

So is violence really up? Well that’s hard to say. Each facility keeps its own statistics, which generally aren’t published. On top of that, many violent incidents go unreported. Some are reported as “patient incidents”, and many don’t reach OH&S staff.

North of the border, the NSW Ministry of Health has started to collect statistics on violence in the state’s hospitals, but none are yet available.

We do know this — in terms of member complaints to the NSWNMA, security and violence issues are the single greatest concern.

Around 35 per cent of complaints to the union over the 2011-2012 financial year were related to security and violence.

But would guns solve the problem? 

Not according to the Australian Nursing Federation’s Victorian state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, who said staffing numbers were the real issue. “Numbers (of security guards) are more important than arms,” she told the Australian newspaper.

And not according to our Facebook fans. One called it a “disaster in the making“, another said better training for security guards was the answer, rather than handguns. While one commenter did suggest tasers might be an option, not one has come out in support of the handgun idea as this post is published.

Incidentally, Fitzpatrick pointed out that the Victorian government had broken an election promise to spend $21 million dollars on security, instead spending a $1.2 million on distress alarms.

Meanwhile, the president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association weighed in on 3AW radio, saying putting guns in hospitals would be the best way to increase the risk of violence. He said that the underlying issue of alcohol abuse needed to be addressed if violence was to be curbed.

What do you think? Would you feel safer if emergency department guards were armed with handguns? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. 

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