Emergency Department violence has increased by over 50 per cent in some areas. 

Aggression and violence against frontline workers in Australian hospital emergency departments (EDs) have significantly increased, according to recent research from Edith Cowan University (ECU). 

The study reveals alarming statistics: in-hospital assaults escalated by 60 per cent in Victoria, 48 per cent in Queensland, and 44 per cent in New South Wales between 2015 and 2018. 

The College of Emergency Nurses’ Australasia survey in 2017 showed that 87 per cent of nurses reported experiencing patient-related violence.

A recent Australian Workers' Union survey in Queensland indicated that nearly 70 per cent of health staff had either been assaulted or had witnessed an assault in the workplace.

“Participants in our study in Perth were overwhelmingly telling us that the occurrence of violence is on the increase. It is not a matter of if, but when,” said PhD candidate Joshua Johnson from Edith Cowan University (ECU). 

“Over the last 20 or so years, it has progressed from verbal or occasional physical abuse, where someone might be throwing a cup at a front-line worker, to the assaults we’re seeing now.”

The ECU study involved focus groups with medical doctors, nurses, and health safety staff across five Perth EDs. 

It identified factors such as drug and alcohol use, mental illness, and psychiatric disorders as contributing to the likelihood of aggression and violence. 

Additional contributors include understaffing and overcrowding in triage areas, leading to longer wait times and communication barriers.

Johnson noted that existing initiatives to reduce violence or improve staff coping mechanisms were seen as ineffective. 

Training varied significantly in quality and frequency across hospitals, with some staff receiving only minimal training annually. 

The incident reporting process also poses challenges, requiring staff to divert time from their duties, creating a backlog. 

“A number of participants also felt that when they were going through the process of incident reporting, oftentimes the changes that were implemented weren’t very visible and were perceived to have no tangible effect to the participants,” Johnson said. 

Exposure to workplace violence has significant repercussions for frontline workers, leading to increased stress, burnout, reduced job performance, and mental health impacts, often resulting in staff leaving the profession. 

The issue also affects student nurses, who may reconsider their career choice after witnessing violent incidents during clinical placements, further straining the healthcare system.

The full study is accessible here.