CLAIMS of constant understaffing, regular assaults on nurses and drug use among patients at Bendigo Health’s adult psychiatric unit will form part of a union campaign for greater funding for Victoria’s mental health system.
But Bendigo Health has denied the claims put by the Health and Community Services Union, saying the psychiatric inpatient units are “currently fully staffed”.
Staff in the unit took their concerns to HACSU, including that management had refused to put up anti-violence posters, were not following up instances of assaults on nurses and multiple overnight shifts per week were not being filled.
The union claims at least 30 nurses have left the unit since it opened in October last year.
Nurses reported occupational assaults – including verbal – multiple times per shift, and physical assaults at least once every two weeks. A patient was placed in seclusion on Monday night after damaging property.
Bendigo organiser Ginny Adams said nurses were being directed use seclusion less and less, which posed a “huge risk” when combined with alleged low staffing levels.
“If you can’t provide safe staffing levels, then you need to close beds – but that’s not happening,” she said.
“Management is essentially relying on luck and hope that there is no serious incident.
“They should be backing up the clinical judgement of their nurses.”
HACSU has been in discussion with Bendigo Health about the issues throughout 2018, but the union has been unsatisfied with the response. It demanded extra agency staff be used to cover understaffing, but claims the extra workers are moved to other areas of the hospital.
HACSU will now campaign against the Andrews government in regional Victoria and inner-city seats ahead of the November election, claiming there is a statewide shortage of 350 mental health clinicians which could rise to 720 when state forensic facilities are built.
A spokesperson for Bendigo Health said it had strategies in place to prevent violence towards staff.
“Occupational violence is an issue for all hospitals and we have a number of strategies in place to prevent this where possible and address incidents when they occur,” she said.
“One of these strategies has been the introduction of the Safewards program which is currently being rolled out across a number of hospitals throughout Victoria.
“The design of the new hospital has improved safety with more staff co-located and in an environment that was built for purpose.”
The spokesperson said staff shortages were the result of “unplanned leave” and disputed other claims made by the union.
Funding for mental health at Bendigo Health increased from $55.7 million to $58.9 million for 2018/19, and the hospital has received almost $400,000 in grants for capital improvements in four years.
Minister for mental health Martin Foley also said Bendigo Health had “strategies in place to replace staff when they are on unplanned leave”.
“Mental health staff do an amazing job in what can be challenging circumstances – that’s why we’ve delivered record funding of $705 million to mental health and alcohol and drug services across Victoria, in the 2018/19 Victorian State Budget,” he said.