Calls to change ad hoc assault laws to protect GPs nationally

Chelsea Heaney

10/05/2024 4:18:57 PM

NSW politicians have acknowledged GPs as ‘frontline health workers’ in assault laws. But why have these laws not been rolled out nationally?

Sad doctor leaning against wall.
The World Medical Association says there has been a surge of violence against health personnel since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RACGP is calling for GPs across the nation to be better protected from violent abuse in their clinics, after New South Wales announced tough new penalties for attackers.
On Thursday, the NSW Parliament agreed to changes to the state’s laws which formally acknowledge GPs as frontline health workers, meaning anyone who physically assaults a GP or practice staff member in the state is facing higher maximum penalties.
The law was originally introduced in 2022 in response to rising attacks on health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic but was limited to employees in hospitals, community health services, or pharmacies – excluding general practice.
The amended legislation follows an incident in January where NSW Police shot and killed a man who had held a GP hostage during a ‘terrifying’ two-hour stand-off.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed the state-based changes and is now urging the Federal Government to consider the same ‘nationally consistent approach to violence against healthcare workers and their teams’.
‘GPs in particular, and their teams, are the ones who are often the most at risk,’ she told newsGP.
‘General practice teams are often at the forefront of patient violence.’
Dr Higgins said she spoke with her clinic staff just this morning about abuse.
‘My administrative staff are facing increasing abuse,’ she said.
‘Verbal abuse, verbal threats from patients, and it’s really impacting on their wellbeing and ability to function in the workplace.’
South Australia introduced new charges in 2019 for assaulting a prescribed emergency worker, which included GPs and health practitioners at any place where medical treatment is provided and included five years’ imprisonment for a basic offence penalty.
The ACT passed laws in 2020 to address attacks on police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency services staff.
A mandatory sentencing proposal for attacks on essential workers failed in the NT Parliament, but spitting assaults for frontline emergency workers were given stronger penalties in 2022.
But overall, the legislation across the country varies.
In 2020 the World Medical Association said there has been a rising ‘surge of violence against health personnel’ over the last decade, only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March this year the Federal Government announced protections for Commonwealth frontline workers from violence and aggression.
This covers workers for Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office, passport offices, airports, and the Australian Electoral Commission.
Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said ‘the Albanese Government deeply values the work done by all our public servants on the frontline’.
‘All Australians, no matter where they work, have the right to a safe, secure and respectful workplace,’ he said.
But unlike the amended NSW laws, Dr Higgins said any Federal legislation needs to include GPs and their staff from the start.
‘Because we’re often working in the community and we are there when patients are often at their most vulnerable,’ she said.
‘We’re also very isolated from security, the types of security systems that hospitals have in place.’
Minister Dreyfus and the Department were contacted for comment.
The RACGP has made this guide available for members on dealing with patient aggression.
Log in below to join the conversation.

assault Federal Government patient violence violence workplace violence

newsGP weekly poll Should after-hours Medicare rebates extend to all-day Saturday?

newsGP weekly poll Should after-hours Medicare rebates extend to all-day Saturday?



Login to comment

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   11/05/2024 8:25:39 PM

Does accreditation assess the security of a practice & practice premises against theft & attack by dangerous patients or intruders?
Does it insist on zero tolerance for violence or aggression against any staff member?
Does it insist on panic alarms & mandatory training of staff to respond to a panic alarms?
Does it insist on preparation in case practice premises have to be abandoned due to extreme weather events- flood, fire, windstorm or due to other events.

Dr Peter James Strickland   12/05/2024 1:14:52 PM

I was threatened by two groups of gangs in A&E one late night after they ended up there after fighting in the local streets. They came out from behind the curtains from the patient bays there after I told them to quieten down and said "lets get him"! I stood up and said loudly , "I work with my brain, and anyone who tries to damage it will end up on the ground like a sack of potatoes"! It worked, but it was all bravado, and I would have had to use my previous boxing ability to protect myself and the nursing sister on duty!! Stand up for yourself, and always have something close by to protect yourself --I had a hockey stick in my surgery room, and possibly a syringe with largactil and valium if you can get it loaded in time by your staff --- I've have had to use the latter in a psychotic soldier when I was in the RAAMC, but I did have the help of the military police, and went straight through the soldier's trousers and into his bum cheek!