We need real action to combat workplace violence against nurses, now - Women's Agenda

We need real action to combat workplace violence against nurses, now

Let’s be clear, without our 400,000 nurses, Australia has no effective COVID response.
Kylie Ward

Studies show that nurses are routinely exposed to more violence than police officers and prison guards – and this won’t change until we do something proactive to solve it, writes Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, CEO of the Australian College of Nursing.

In September, I had the privilege of attending the National Summit on Women’s Safety on behalf of the thousands of nurses, represented in part by the Australian College of Nursing (ACN).

At this event, women from all walks of life shared their experiences of individual and systemic violence in their homes, workplaces, and public domains.

As Chair of the ACN Nurses and Violence Taskforce, I am far too familiar with nurses sharing their stories of being abused and threatened in their workplaces, sometimes by the very people they were trying to care for.

This includes nurses being verbally and physically abused, spat on and assaulted by some patients and members of the public as they travelled to and from work.

Despite the sense of community Australians have otherwise fostered during difficult times, there is a strong sense amongst nurses that the public does not always care about their safety and well-being, even though nurses are at the frontline of our COVID response, caring for patients in hospital and providing vaccinations in general practice, aged care facilities and community settings.

Let’s be clear, without our 400,000 nurses, Australia has no effective COVID response.

The recognition nurses deserve shouldn’t be misconstrued. Nurses do not want to be seen as martyrs or victims – we simply want to be recognised for our important work, our rights and to be acknowledged for the risks we undertake to care for others every day.

Recognition for nurses looks like protecting nurses and frontline workers to ensure their workplaces are free from violence and abuse.

Recognition for nurses looks like including nurses in the conversation about how we combat COVID-19 nationwide. 

Recognition for nurses looks like supporting and empowering nurses in their clinical settings to ensure their expertise and professional experience is sought and heard.

Every act to recognise, protect and empower nurses – of which 90% are women – will in turn benefit Australia’s fight to end violence against women.

Unfortunately, violence against nurses in the workplace is not new. Studies show that nurses are routinely exposed to more violence than police officers and prison guards – and this won’t change until we do something proactive to solve it.

The development of the next federal government’s National Plan to reduce violence against women is an important step to ensure nurses’ experiences are heard and acknowledged.

The unique nurse experience as both victims of violence and as health professionals responding to the impact of violence, is an important perspective to include in any plans to combat this issue.    

Reducing violence against nurses is vital to ensure we can attract and retain nurses in our health workforce. With our ageing population, we will need more nurses than ever before to meet our community’s needs for high-quality care.

Australia was already facing a significant workforce shortage, before COVID-19, now the pandemic has seen our workforce stretched to its absolute limit. Addressing this shortage will require ongoing action by both the federal and state/territory governments. 

To help coordinate this action, ACN hosted The National Summit on Nursing Workforce Issues in October which brought together the entire profession to talk about the issues facing our large workforce. Violence in the workplace loomed large as one of the key topics impacting all aspects of the nursing profession.

ACN has also launched a position paper on Occupational Violence Against Nurses at our National Nursing Forum this week and hosted a session titled Nurses and Violence – for we cannot stay idle while our colleagues grapple with abuse in their workplaces.

Taking action on violence against nurses is one piece of the puzzle – stopping violence in our workplaces is up to every Australian.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox