Outside Royal Prince Alfred hospital, staff members held their up band-aid boards in defiance. Photo: Health Services Union.

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By VERONICA ANASSIS

Crowds of union protestors lobbied outside Camperdown and Randwick hospitals on Thursday, on strike against unsafe working conditions.

Medical and security staff, estimated at 80, stood outside their Royal Prince Alfred and Prince of Wales precincts as part of a state-wide stand-off. Thousands rallied for their rights across 50 hospitals on the day, attracting a predicted 22,000 turn-out across NSW. In-house incidents of assaults, death threats and beatings led them to stand in solidarity. The strike lasted one hour at RPA, and up to four hours across the state.

The Health Services Union (HSU), which spearheaded the boycott, say their longstanding pleas for added security personnel has been met with endless roundtables and reviews, but no real action.

Sickening level of violence

“The level of violence against hospital workers is sickening,” said HSU NSW Secretary, Gerard Hayes.  “There are more than 40 assaults in NSW hospitals each month. In the last three years, our members have been shot, stabbed, punched, bitten and spat upon. Enough is enough.”

Their spokesperson says the Royal Prince Alfred hospital has long been the scene of escalating violence.

“In 2015, there was an all-out brawl in a geriatric ward. In January, a man was stabbed by another patient in the triage area. In May, nurses and patients were injured in an attack with scissors. All we’ve had is protests and talk fests, and we’re fed up.”

Since the protests, City Hub can reveal there have been three different assaults on NSW health workers, including paramedics being assaulted and abused at Sutherland and Auburn.

“A security officer at Nepean mental ward got punched, and ended up in the emergency department himself,” the HSU revealed. “And that’s just in the last 48 hours.”

The Sydney Local Health District says the turn out at RPA was closer to just two dozen, and made “no impact on care and services,” according a spokesperson.

NSW Health has been accused of using intimidation tactics to deter participation for days leading up to the strikes. Multiple sources confirmed to City Hub that many hospitals—including Ryde—sent out emails falsely informing staff that the strikes had been “called off”.

At Blacktown, a witness at the protest revealed that all participants were being recorded and photographed by HR personnel.

“Despite a campaign of intimidation and misinformation by the Ministry of Health, thousands of security, cleaning, catering, administration and allied health members of the HSU walked off the job for at least one hour not just for themselves, but also for the safety of the broader community,” said Mr Hayes.

The Sydney Local Health District still maintain that sufficient measures have been taken for staff to feel safe at work, including remote locking systems, and five additional security staff at RPA.

“Across NSW, $19 million has been invested to improve security at public hospitals, upgrading CCTV systems. In addition, more than $5 million has been invested across NSW to upgrade duress alarms for staff in emergency departments,” said their spokesperson.

What’s more, on the eve of the strike, NSW Health offered to place extra security guards at two Central Coast hospitals, on a trial basis. But while the HSU appreciates the strides taken, they claim it’s not nearly enough. The HSW is asking for 250 security staff for metropolitan areas, proper training, elevated guard rights and an awareness campaign, to cost $50 million.

Security training essential

“What we’re not talking about is just getting more security guards full stop,” their spokesperson told City Hub. “We want them to be trained for a clinical setting. We want them to have special constable powers, which gives them the right to retain and detain people who are acting aggressively, disturbing the peace, or being violent.”

Many protesters say NSW is still understaffed at any major hospital, and the frequency of abuse persists.

“Nurses and support staff cop death threats and threats of abuse on every shift,” said a HSU supporter.

A wardsperson working at a regional hospital even alleges she was appointed to be identified as security personnel, despite no prior experience or training.

“I am a full time wardsperson employed on a Health and Security pay level who has been made to wear a security uniform despite not having worked in a security role,” the wardsperson said. “No ongoing mandatory training relevant to security was made available to me, no back up, I was working alone, often challenged by aggression-prone patients who have previously been restrained by security.”

My Hayes says the campaign will intensify if ignored, with plans to continue protests if demands are not met. In the meantime HSU talks with NSW Health continue.