It’s pretty well documented that I’m a massive fan of hospital staff. There are very few speeches I do where I don’t single them out of the crowd to give them a thank you, and my book had a huge collection of praise for the various medical professionals who saved my life with grace, care, and humanity.
I could (and regularly do) harp on about how incredible I think they are. But that’s not quite what I’m doing today – there is more of a point to today’s column.
The catalyst to writing this is that as I write now, I’m sitting in another hospital bed.
There’s no need for alarm (although it was hard to convince my mum of that). I’ve just ended up here overnight for some monitoring and antibiotics.
It all started a few weeks back, when I got bitten by an unknown something (yep, that’s bloody Australia for you). It was healing up nicely until I woke this morning to a pretty huge infection in my arm, with painful red streaks tracking further up my arm.
Off to A&E we go.
The staff were great at getting me seen and taking care of their patients, as always, but the reason that I really feel the need to say thanks is down to one sole doctor. That would be the doctor who lanced the infection, squeezed it, and then wore an ensuing spray of green pus onto the front of his top, all while only muttering “Yep, smells like infection”.
Nice. Not a fun time for anyone involved, but his ability to brush it off (and then sponge it off) all whilst having a joke with me was incredibly admirable. It is that level of exceptional care that is so common in our medical system, and still so overlooked. The ability of these people to come together and help others who are at their weakest and most vulnerable, every single day, for exceptionally long hours at times, is something that leaves me in awe. There are few professions that are selfless to that degree.
It’s for this reason I find assaults on hospital staff to be particularly abhorrent. It’s a problem that seems to be glossed over – probably not the first thing that comes into your mind when you think about hospitals, or their staff.
However, it’s certainly not a minor issue or uncommon occurrence. The last comprehensive look into the numbers was a study in the New Zealand Medical Journal in 2014, which found that 79% of staff had been threatened, 38% had been physically assaulted, and 39% had been sexually harassed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it appears to be getting worse.
The Waitemata DHB has reported a two-fold increase in the number of assaults on staff in the 12 months until October 2016. Hospital staff are speaking out about it and asking for help – just Google it for yourself and have a read. But what are we doing about alleviating their concerns?
Queensland’s tough law
In Queensland, where I’m in hospital, they know what to do about it. In 2014 they brought in a new law with specific repercussions for assaulting healthcare workers: up to 14 years in prison.
The reason I know about this, and what got me thinking about writing this today, is because they also backed it with a $1.5 million campaign to raise awareness about both the crime and the consequences, and there are graphic posters showcasing the kind of violence these staff face every day plastered all through the hospital.
What followed this law change was a sizeable drop in the rates of assaults, simple as that. There are still issues with violence towards staff, but at the very least, they’re trying to do something about it.
The violence and threats are probably a sign of a deeper-running issue, an exceptionally grim symptom of our drinking culture perhaps. Sure enough, Queensland had their laws introduced as part of a series of laws trying to limit the damage of a toxic drinking culture. That’s a discussion for another day, but regardless, it’s not about looking for excuses. It’s about offering those who devote their lives to helping others the same basic safety almost all of us take for granted as we go to work every day.
We need to collectively ask ourselves how we want some of our best and brightest and most caring to be treated, and then take steps to achieve that. They’re not doing the job for fun, and they’re not on the frontline for the pay either.
You wouldn’t want to do half do the stuff these people do. They are human, and surely there is only so much they can take before they throw the towel in, head overseas to somewhere that ensures they’re safe in their workplace like they should be, and we’re left in dire straits. Increasing the seriousness of the consequences for assaulting medical staff seems like a great start if you ask me.
The least we can give them is our gratitude. What we really should be giving these everyday heroes is some support and protection.