Tougher penalties needed for assault

The man has been taken to Kingaroy Hospital.
The man has been taken to Kingaroy Hospital. Tony Martin

NORTHERN NSW paramedics facing the nightly threat of being bashed, spat on and abused by drug users and drunks are demanding tougher sentencing for offenders.

The New South Wales Health Service Union has called for the State Government to follow Queensland's lead and introduce 14-year maximum jail sentences for assaults on health workers.

HSU state secretary Gerard Hayes was a paramedic in Kempsey for more than a decade and experienced the violence first-hand.

He became a union official in 2000 and has since watched the number of horror stories continually rise.

"The risk of assault on the job was always there," he said.

"We had people who were injured, but also found ourselves in very serious situations from pub brawls to sieges."

"It's already a daunting task, but you're trying to render assistance and then find out you're going to need it for yourself."

Mr Hayes said the Christmas and Schoolies period always resulted in upsurges in health worker assaults - not only for paramedics, but many times for security officers and nurses working in emergency rooms.

"Byron Bay and Tweed are hotspots but you will see it in any emergency department, in this day and age," he said.

Only 69% of health workers in the northern NSW local health district felt their workplace was proactive in minimising potential violence or abuse from patients and visitors, according to a 2013 industry-wide NSW Health survey.

Thirty-nine per cent had been verbally abused by a patient or visitor in the last year.

"There has to be more of a focus on education to change the culture in schools, but there needs to be consequences too," Mr Hayes said.

"We support serious sentences for people who attack health workers."


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