BENDIGO Health staff are suffering at the hands of methamphetamine users who are lashing out in drug-affected states.
The hospital has recorded at least five serious assaults on staff in the past few months and more and more people using methamphetamine, the drug commonly known as ice, are presenting to the emergency department and Alexander Bayne Centre.
Staff say ice users are particularly aggressive and often exhibit predatory behaviour, such as biting.
One nurse still has scarring up her arms from when a 17-year-old female patient sank her teeth into her flesh.
Another nurse has only just returned to work, on limited duties, after he was punched by a patient, causing significant stress.
Bendigo Health’s psychiatric services acting executive director Vic Tripp said the hospital recently formed a working party to look into aggressive incidents.
He said it was time to speak out about ice.
“From a management perspective, what I’ve noticed is a lot more pressure on the system from people who are using ice,” Mr Tripp said.
“We’re seeing that pressure in the emergency department, in the Alexander Bayne Centre, which is our acute adult unit, and right the way through our community programs.
“It’s hard to say how big the ice problem is but it seems that we’ve had a bit of an influx over the past six months.” Mr Tripp said the community needed to band together and tackle the problem.
“We’ve just got to get the message out there to parents and teachers and whoever else,” he said.
“We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg because every ice user doesn’t come into our service.
Senior psychiatric nurse consultant Tim Lenten said staff had been bitten, scratched and punched and forced to undergo blood testing because of those attacks.
“The other indicator that it is stressing the staff, is that I’ve had the most amount of staff approach me from the wards seeking career opportunities outside that environment,” he said.
“That’s an indicator that things are of a volatile nature.”
Mr Tripp said ice- and other drug-users were taking up beds that were already in high demand.
“A lot of these people do not have an enduring mental illness,” he said.
“The only reason they’re coming in to us is because their behaviour is challenging, they’re aggressive and there might be some psychosis.
“It can have ongoing affects in their life.”
Ice users aggressive, says nurse
BENDIGO nurse Kirsten Ross knows all too well the devastating effects of ice.
Ms Ross works in the Alexander Bayne Centre and has seen what can happen when ice users lash out in violent attacks.
One of her colleagues, a nurse in charge, has scars up her arms from when a female patient bit into her flesh.
“The 17-year-old girl came in and within a couple of minutes she had bitten two people and latched herself onto a security guard,” Ms Ross said.
“They were full-on bites – the nurse in charge still has scarring.
“People that we see who are on ice do things like biting, and other predatory behaviours.”
Ms Ross said staff were being forced to make more use of seclusion rooms, because ice-affected patients were so aggressive.
“They’re impulsive and wanting to grab your hair and everything,” she said.
“There’s no reasoning with them.
“They don’t have that ability to listen, whereas with other drugs, they kind of do.
“They overact, they misinterpret what you’re saying, and they just don’t want to be there.
“They have no understanding of what they’re doing, they’re aggressive and they’re hitting people.
“So we’re putting them in seclusion fairly quickly because they’re immediately a risk to everyone around them.
“We’re using the police a lot more, too, and we’re using the security guards even more.”