Staff at the South East Regional Hospital have thrown their support behind industrial action on Thursday, with one union boss declaring a "security crisis" at public hospitals across the state.
Fundamentally, this strike is about improving public safety and restoring confidence in the security of our hospitals.HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes
Health Services Union NSW sub-branch vice president and SERH health security assistant Nick Crundall said while he is relatively happy with security at the hospital, in recent months one staff member was allegedly punched from behind by an emergency department patient.
Mr Crundall said the addition of a dedicated security officer would create "a visual presence around the hospital", and act as a preventative measure.
He said the upgraded Pambula Hospital also requires onsite security overnight, and the union is looking to enter discussions with the replacements for both outgoing Southern NSW Local Health District CEO Andrew Newton and SERH general manager Wendy Hubbard.
The union predicted as many as 22,000 public hospital workers would strike for between one and four hours after talks between NSW Health and the HSU in the Industrial Relations Commission on Wednesday failed to avert the action.
NSW Health claimed on Friday "a maximum of a few hundred" staff members across 400 health facilities took part in the industrial action.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said this week he is concerned about hospital violence, and will wait for the final recommendations of a government review before acting further, although he has agreed to trial extra security officers at Wyong and Gosford hospitals.
"There is an expectation that the Ministry of Health's good faith will be returned by the HSU," a NSW Health spokesperson said on Friday.
"NSW Health will work with the HSU to achieve the best possible outcome, noting that the security review being undertaken by the former Labor health and police inister Peter Anderson, is expected [over] the next few months."
HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said there are now more than 40 assaults in hospitals across the state every month, adding staff are "sick of being treated as punching bags".
"In the last three years, hospital workers have been stabbed, shot, punched, bitten and abused," Mr Hayes said.
"We are living through a hospital security crisis. Our strike is an unfortunate but necessary last resort. We have argued, lobbied and advocated for change for years, but our pleas continue to fall on deaf ears.
"Fundamentally, this strike is about improving public safety and restoring confidence in the security of our hospitals."
NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association's acting general secretary Judith Kiejda said nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers frequently come in contact with violence and aggression in their workplaces.
The association's Bega branch delegate and NSW councillor Diane Lang said SERH members wore grey armbands in support of the awareness campaign, and said extra nursing and security staff at the hospital's emergency department would help prevent incidents of verbal and physical abuse.
Ms Lang said understaffing on wards makes it difficult for staff to de-escalate potentially violent situations when they arise.
Ms Lang said ambulance officers working on the frontline "cop it the worst", with drugs and alcohol the biggest "instigator" of abuse. While paramedics were working, they refused to bill patients as part of a revenue strike.
"No worker should be subjected to any violence whether it's verbal or physical," Ms Lang said.
Ms Kiejda said the issue is impacting the public, private, aged care, mental health and community health sectors.
"We've participated in reviews and roundtables, and made submission after submission, yet the problems still exist," she said.
"We appreciate it is a complex issue and therefore requires a broad approach, but there are steps that could already be implemented to help tackle the problems and also address the concerns of workers.
"Increasing hospital security is only one element. We believe understaffing is a major contributing factor and it requires urgent attention.
"Improved staff to patient ratios would definitely help to alleviate some of the pressures, yet we're in a constant battle over the bare minimum of staffing."