Soldier reveals why war zone is safer than our hospitals

A decorated soldier has revealed he felt safer on deployment to Afghanistan than he did while working in the state's largest hospital, warning Queensland Health security needs an urgent overhaul before someone is killed.

The Sunday Mail can also reveal assaults on hospital staff have increased by 55 per cent over the past three years, with health workers, doctors and nurses physically and verbally abused 34 times a day.

Former infantry soldier Dean Douglass served for almost a decade and completed four tours before taking a security job with Queensland Health in 2016 and warned it was "only a matter of time" before someone was killed.

Dean Douglass has lifted the lid on what it’s really like working security at the state’s biggest hospital. Picture: John Gass
Dean Douglass has lifted the lid on what it’s really like working security at the state’s biggest hospital. Picture: John Gass

While working at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Mr Douglass was punched, kicked, spat on, bitten, threatened with knives and scissors and was responsible for disarming a man who threatened to blow up the facility with what was later revealed to be a fake bomb.

New data reveals there were more than 12,400 physical and verbal attacks on Queensland hospital staff in 2019-20, up from 7973 two years earlier. The statistics this year include 6332 instances of actual physical aggression, 4093 acts of verbal aggression and 1980 cases of threatened assaults.

Mr Douglass said that was the tip of the iceberg.

"I couldn't believe the violence in the hospital, it was a real eye opener," he said. "I probably had 75 physical altercations at the hospital for every one that I had bouncing (hotel security). That's no exaggeration. It's just a normal part of life for nurses and doctors and hospital staff."

Mr Douglass said few hospital security staff had licences or qualifications.

"It pays well so everyone who thinks they're good at security shows up and they learn pretty quickly it's not what they thought it was going to be and they can't keep up with the frequency and the intensity because it's continuing to grow exponentially," he said.

"The hospital is not what you think it is, it's like the Wild West."

Dean Douglass while serving in Afghanistan. Picture: Supplied
Dean Douglass while serving in Afghanistan. Picture: Supplied

A security job advertised with Queensland Health says a qualification would be "well regarded", but applicants need only to be vaccinated for diseases including measles and mumps.

Mr Douglass, who previously led the emergency response team on Manus Island, said hospital security were given little training and what training they got was not sufficient.

"In the three-plus years I worked with Queensland Health there were only two days that were put aside for training and it was the absolute worst training I've ever experienced in my entire life," he said. "I don't say it lightly when I say it's not a matter of if but when someone is going to get killed at the hospital in that role, I 100 per cent, hand on my heart, believe that."

Mr Douglass said introducing minimum entry requirements, beefing up training, having an on-shift police officer posted to major emergency departments (EDs), giving security powers to search and creating a hospital security response team could drastically reduce violence in Queensland hospitals.

"Nurses can't do their jobs to help people with a broken nose so a line needs to be drawn," he said. "It will change when someone dies and I will do everything in my power to prevent that."

Security called in to chase a fleeing woman at the RBWH. Picture: Supplied
Security called in to chase a fleeing woman at the RBWH. Picture: Supplied

Hundreds of weapons, including blades and knives, are confiscated from patients every year and despite the risks, security officers aren't authorised to perform searches, even non-invasive searches with metal detectors.

Mr Douglass had repeatedly raised this issue with his superiors, including five days before a mentally unwell man armed with a fake bomb threatened to blow up the RBWH. The man had built an explosive vest Mr Douglass said "looked realer than some of the real ones I've seen".

After evacuating the area, Mr Douglass managed to convince the man to go outside with him where he disarmed him, earning him a Bravery Medal nomination.

"I was so scared," he said. "There's probably been about five times in my life where I thought I was going to die and that was one of them, I really thought it was all over."

Mr Douglass, who married a nurse, said he resigned this year due to the mental impacts of the violence he experienced at the hospital, including PTSD from the bomb incident.

"I have never felt more unsafe in my life than I did working while I was with Queensland Health," he said.

Mr Douglass, who is now studying criminology, said security staff were forced to unlawfully detain patients and also "babysit" and physically restrain mentally unwell patients in the emergency department for hours on end.

"There would be thousands of Queenslanders who have been detained against their rights and freedoms in Queensland hospitals," he said. "It is rampant."

He said legislation allowed people to be detained, including under the Mental Health and the Public Health acts, but the correct protocols weren't being followed.

Security caught up in a scuffle at the RBWH. Picture: Supplied
Security caught up in a scuffle at the RBWH. Picture: Supplied

Mr Douglass said facilities to detain patients at the Prince Charles and Royal Brisbane and Women's hospitals were not being used because of budget issues, so volatile patients were "babysat" in the ED alongside children and the elderly. Police would also "dump" dangerous criminals at the hospital.

"This is no fault of the police officers directly, it's just the legislation, but as soon as the patient says they're going to harm themselves, the police have a duty of care to take them to a hospital to be assessed," he said.

Shine Lawyers solicitor Cecelia Simpson represented Mr Douglass in a workers' compensation claim over to the trauma he suffered and said a change was needed.

"Shine Lawyers is seeing an increase in inquiries from employees working in hospital settings who have suffered serious psychological and physical injuries," she said. "Dean has devoted his life to helping others as a soldier - he's lost mates and doesn't want to lose more."

Shadow health minister Ros Bates said the LNP would work with Labor to protect staff.

"As a nurse I know our health heroes are trying to save lives and help people when they need it most but their safety is constantly under threat," she said.

Health minister Yvette D'Ath did not respond to questions about training or facilities for violent patients.

"There's never any excuse for violence directed at hospital and health staff," she said. "They're at the front line keeping us safe from COVID and they should be able to go about their jobs free from the threat of assault or violence."

Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union secretary Beth Mohle said: "No nurse, midwife or health worker should come to work in fear of their safety."


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