Safety Fears After Drugs Smuggled Into Townsville Hospital

Following a breaking story by Courier Mail reporter Des Houghton where nurses’ lives were placed in jeopardy from potentially fatal needle stick injury and threatening behaviour from a patient’s partner, the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) calls for a complete management overhaul at Townsville HHS. 

After an ongoing series of widely reported scandals over security issues (see links to articles from Townsville Bulletin below), the continuing series of management failures that underpin these life threatening issues for nurses have continued seemingly unabated. 

Even worse, the management has moved to again try and cover it all up. 

Two weeks ago it came to a head when Townsville Hospital nurses found themselves in life threatening danger from a critically ill Hepatitis C patient whose partner was smuggling in illicit drugs in hypodermic syringes, injecting the drugs, then leaving the half-used uncapped syringes around the patient hidden under bedclothes, under pillows, in incontinence pads and tissue boxes. Any of the attending nurses could have sustained a needlestick injury and been infected with Hepatitis C.

The nurses involved, who rightly felt threatened, (Hep C can be fatal) had asked repeatedly for hospital security to protect them from the abusive partner and have the ward cleared by the HAZMAT (hazardous material) team. They had even been forced to call the police to protect them.  Their requests for help were all denied by the management team lead by CEO Keiren Keyes on the grounds of cost and inconvenience.

It was only when NPAQ local branch secretary Kirsten McAllister brought in the NPAQ legal team using provisions of the Workplace Health and Safety Act that a meeting was arranged and effective action implemented. As a matter of interest the QNMU declined to intervene or attend. CEO Keiren Keyes also declined to attend.

After weeks of inaction the solution was quite straight forward. The abusive illegal drug supplier partner was simply banned from the hospital, and the immediate problem was solved. Nurses were safe again. However the ongoing security issues remained unresolved, and NPAQ’s members wanted more done. Our branch secretary, who was involved as a nurse in this issue in the ward and who was the one who had requested the extra security on behalf of her nurses in the ward affected, wanted to have further meetings about this problem and its treatment by hospital management.

Here is the CEO Keiren Keyes’ response. Read it and understand why the nurses told us why they felt that he was trying to bully them to not meet about this issue.

Kirsten McAllister's response to CEO Keiren Keyes is not a public document but it was sent to the NPAQ members at the facility so that they were aware of what actions we were taking on their behalf. In it she requested of Mr Keyes that the nurses affected would like to meet with him about the security issues in the public canteen at the hospital. Mr Keyes, who had demanded the right to approve all such meetings of nurses over this issue did not respond nor attend. 

The nurses affected and many more did however meet in a series of meetings on Thursday 25th, in their own time, and the response was overwhelming. Nurses told us they want a safe workplace. They said “why should nurses have to risk their lives because hospital management can't manage security?” They told NPAQ that this is not a political issue, it is not about money or lack of it. They believed it was about functional and responsive management that someone on a salary of $600,000 per annum should be able to deliver.

It was resolved that NPAQ will:

  1. Write to Health Minister Miles and to the local hospital board chairman Tony Mooney informing them of the problem and asking for them to act to address these management issues identified by the nurses.
  2. Call for a complete Workplace Health and Safety investigation. The relevant Ministers have been copied in by NPAQ. These were life threatening incidents and must be fully investigated by the department (see attached).
  3. Support a complaint to the Qld Health Ombudsman regarding CEO Keiren Keyes’ (also a Registered Nurse) professional conduct in this matter. The evidence shows that not only were his nurses in jeopardy; so were members of the public. We believe that this is a notifiable incident under the AHPRA Nurses Code of Conduct.
  4. Write to the local hospital board chairman Mr Tony Mooney about the management performance at the hospital. Necessarily this correspondence will have to be confidential. Suffice to say that the problems at Townsville hospital are not political or ideological, nor is it necessarily to do with lack of funding. The hospital just produced a healthy surplus, which we normally applaud. The problems are clearly rooted in substandard management systems and the operations of them.


More importantly, there are also recently filed QIRC actions pending, funded by the NPAQ, which could possibly end up in the Federal Court. These are about serious bullying issues involving the senior Townsville hospital management which will inevitably impact upon the entire management culture. These matters are not related to this current security issue and the timing is coincidental. NPAQ signed off on the funding guarantee for the legal actions three months ago.

But it is difficult to imagine how under these circumstances any management team could function effectively to resolve these types of “lack of trust” security issues when the people charged with fixing them are themselves subject to ongoing legal action for bullying. Furthermore all of this will eventually become public knowledge as the matters slowly filters through the legal system. Not good. 


Ministerial action

We understand Health Minister Steven Miles has just announced substantial new security measures for Townsville Hospital. Well done.  NPAQ is a non-political professional organisation. We applaud his quick action as will our members. However it is not his job to do just that, and without criticism he now needs to do more.

Minister Miles needs to now demand of local hospital board Chairman Tony Mooney that he look seriously at the systems and management protocols at the hospital with respect to security. In his defence Mr Keyes, who has only been CEO for three months inherited a lot of the problems but it is Mr Mooney's responsibility to determine whether or not these issues can be resolved under the prevailing circumstances. Townsville nurses await his judgement.


Media Contact

For further information contact Mr Haycroft at anytime at [email protected] 

Please note that because Kirsten McAllister is a volunteer NPAQ officer who works at the hospital facility she is not able to comment or contribute to any media story. Her role is entirely as the principal contact person at the facility for fellow NPAQ members.



  1. Townsville Bulletin article 18 June 18
  2. Townsville Bulletin article 27 June 18
  3. CEO Keiren Keyes letter to NPAQ
  4. Formal complaint from NPAQ to WHS Department


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