Victorian opposition didn’t consult hospitals on plan to deploy protective service officers

<span>Photograph: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Protective service officers would be stationed at five Victorian hospitals to boost staff safety under a pre-election pledge by the opposition, despite the health services not being directly consulted about the scheme.

Under the two-year plan PSOs would be stationed at the Royal Melbourne hospital, Dandenong hospital, Sunshine hospital, Frankston hospital and Box Hill hospital, to respond to incidents of violence, assist medical staff and sworn police officers, provide support to mental health patients and accompany staff to their cars.

The unveiling of the plan came as the government committed to investing up to $675m for a new hospital in west Gippsland if re-elected at the November election.

Paul Gilbert, the assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said violence and aggression occurred across the health sector but that the scheme would only provide about 3.5 PSOs for each shift across five hospitals.

Related: ‘No health workers want to stand with us’: the challenge for Victoria’s Coalition

“It may provide support for Victoria Police, but it will not work as a health response,” Gilbert said.

Matthew Guy said a Coalition government would commit to ensuring all healthcare workers were safe from abuse and violence.

“The safe workspace for our health care workers at this point in time is part of my plan to fix the hospital system,” the opposition leader said.

A parliamentary inquiry in 2011 recommended that PSOs not be employed in Victorian hospitals due to it being an “inappropriate” measure that was “contrary to the good management of security in hospitals” and posed a greater safety risk.

Hospital staff told the inquiry they had concerns that the presence of armed guards would increase, rather than decrease, the potential for violence.

Gilbert said “best practice” was already happening with unarmed security guards – who have undertaken healthcare context training – employed by hospitals

“We don’t need headlines about adding guns to our health services, we need leadership on the further work required by hospital managements to implement strong internal workplace systems,” he said.

The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine said the proposal could decrease safety in emergency departments.

“However, instead of PSOs, the college advises the employment of security guards, embedded in ED,” the peak body said. “These security guards would receive specialised training and would provide compassionate, patient-centred, trauma-informed care.”

On Monday Daniel Andrews said the none of five hospitals included in the trial had requested PSO protection and said the feedback from the health sector had been around workforce shortages. Andrews also took a swipe at the opposition for returning to a 2010 policy it had “junked” in 2011.

The opposition’s health spokesperson, Georgie Crozier, said the party had not “directly consulted” the five hospitals but stressed that as a former nurse, he had first-hand experience of physical workplace abuse.

“What I can say is that I have consulted with the Australian College of Nursing and they tell me that, through their surveys, the nurses say one of the biggest issues is around occupational violence,” Crozier said.

“I am a former nurse. I’ve had patients attack me, scratch me, throw bodily fluids at me.

The Police Association of Victoria’s secretary, Wayne Gatt, said PSOs would be another safety mechanism to combat violence at hospitals.

“Our police members are called to attend hospitals daily for the transition of mental health patients, hospital guarding of prisoners and public safety activities,” Gatt said.

“The addition of PSOs specifically to support at these locations would bolster the work that Victoria Police already performs.”

Related: Beware Victorian politicians pledging to cure the health system

The trial would involve recruiting, training and deploying 75 PSOs.

Last month, a report by the state’s auditor-general concluded a blitz to recruit more than 2,700 additional Victorian police officers under a $2bn investment to tackle crime has not been proved to improve community safety.

The PSOs would also provide support to mental health patients, in order to free-up sworn police officers. The armed officers would be required to lock their guns in a safe before entering hospital’s mental health wards.