Nurses fear safety after illegal drugs smuggled into Townsville Hospital

Des Houghton, The Courier-Mail, October 26, 2018 10:00pm

THE husband of an acutely ill woman smuggled syringes and white powder into her room at Townsville hospital during a major security blunder.

When nurses called for back-up, they were told security was “too busy” to attend.


NPAQ Townsville branch secretary Kirsten McAllister.

Later they were told in an email that it was too costly to call them out.

A senior nurse tells me a heavily tattooed man was able to come and go as he wished for at least nine days at Townsville Hospital, despite syringes being found hidden in a tissue box, bed clothing and in the woman’s incontinence pad.

Nurses were alarmed to notice the man also carried a pocket knife in a pouch on his belt in visits earlier this month.

The nurse says the man in his 50s became aggressive, shouted obscenities and warned nurses not to interfere.

In emails to their managers and in conversations with me, the nurses say pleas for security were not taken seriously.

Nurses say they were told: “Security is too busy to come.”

In an email, the nurses were told “resources are limited” and “security is an expensive option”. This was because the private security teams on call had to travel in pairs.

In a report to her superiors one nurse wrote: “The husband arrived and was yelling at his wife while punching his fist into his hand.

“He began swearing. I calmly asked him to cease as he was upsetting his wife. He yelled f--- off. I informed him if he continued to abuse his wife and myself, security would be contacted.

“He then stated again while punching his hand, ‘You will see me very angry if you do that’. This gentleman is around 187cm with numerous facial, arm and body tattoos.

“The nurse rostered in the bay today has also raised his aggressive demeanour.

“Registrar was present post the incident and has requested this be raised with security also as he may pose further risk to other patients in the bay.”

Nine days later on October 11, the alarm was raised again and security was called.

“Security were called and did attend the ward briefly. However, they were unable to stay on the ward,” another nurse said in an email.

“Staff are understandably feeling very confronted and concerned for their welfare when dealing with this behaviour of both the patient and her partner.

“Multiple staff have raised their safety concerns for themselves and other patients this morning.”


Health Minister Steven Miles outside Townsville Hospital. Picture: Zak Simmonds


The nurses say needles found in the room were uncapped, heightening the risk of needlestick injuries.

Terrible assaults and threats of violence against nurses in our hospitals seem to be on the rise.

But what happened in Townsville recently beggars belief.

The intruder not only threatened staff but his wife. She was a woman of a similar age whose name and medical condition were not revealed to me. I’m told she later discharged herself against the wishes of her doctors.

The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland, which represents more than 150 nurses in Townsville, has written to the Townsville Hospital and Health Service, asking for an explanation about the security lapses.

NPAQ state secretary Cath Seaver says threatening behaviour towards nurses is on the increase in all major hospitals.

“This has happened all over the state — and in at least one nursing home that I am aware of,” she says.

If the nurses and doctors are unsafe, so, too, are their patients, Seaver says. The NPAQ was making a formal complaint to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

Kirsten McAllister, the NPAQ Townsville branch secretary, says issues remain “unresolved”.

“Photographic evidence of the drug paraphernalia has been circulating openly among your senior staff,” she wrote.

McAllister declined to elaborate. Kieran Keyes, the chief executive of the Townsville Hospital and Health Service did not return calls.

However, Health Minister Stephen Miles says nurse safety is paramount.

“In response to security incidents at Townsville Hospital, we have employed six additional security officers and deployed body-worn cameras,” he says.

“It shouldn’t have to come to this, but if that’s what it takes to make our nurses safe, it’s what we will do.”

Queensland Health figures show assaults and abuse have soared by 20 per cent in recent years. There have been attacks at Prince Charles, Royal Brisbane and Caboolture hospitals.

Logan Hospital also has a poor security record with more than two assaults or threats of violence there every week last year.

Townsville Hospital’s Emergency Department.

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