THEY get hit, kicked and spat on, and with aggression levels "sky high" at John Hunter Hospital, security guards are needed "more than ever" for the safety of staff, patients and visitors, the Health and Services Union (HSU) says.
If there is a violent or aggressive incident, the security guards are supposed to respond in twos - much like the police. But on "numerous" occasions, there had been "multiple incidents" occur at the same time, leaving one officer, or none, available to attend, HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said.
"The number of staff that are employed to undertake security at John Hunter - one of the biggest regional hospitals there is - is inadequate," he said. "You may have a situation where one or two of the security guards may be required to stay with the patient for some time - so they are taken out of the frame altogether. So if you have another incident in the general hospital area, you've got one person - or maybe no one, available. What we want to try do, and what our members at John Hunter Hospital want to do, is to be proactive to stop reacting to issues as they arise. They want to be ahead of the game.
"Clearly they don't have the capacity to do that."
The hospital has three security guards "on the floor" and a senior security officer "manning" the security office. For five nights a week, a fifth officer is employed for 12 hours, but on Monday and Tuesday nights, the additional officer is there for eight hours.
"Our members are calling for eight staff per shift to ensure the safety of the hospital assets, of the staff, of the patients, and the visitors."
A Hunter New England Health spokesperson said they had recently began a review of security services at all facilities, in consultation with the HSU, which was due for completion by the end of April. They would await the outcome before making any decisions about staffing. The last increase in security officer staffing had occurred in 2010. In 2014, there had been 1429 security incidents reported. In 2018, there were 1478. The spokesperson denied the security office had to be manned 24/7.
But hospital medical staff have told the Newcastle Herald that paging security was sometimes delayed due to "black spots" within the hospital, which was why someone had to man the office for duress alarms.
"A review and test of the John Hunter Hospital radio system was undertaken on 13 February 2019 by National Wireless. There were no black spots detected," the spokesperson said.
"A Code Black is a planned response to a threat of aggression or violence, and there is capacity to call in additional security resources," she said. "Should two incidents occur simultaneously that both require security attendance, two Security Officers attend the first, and a Security Officer and Senior Security Officer attend the second. If there is a protracted incident, additional staff can be called in to ensure capacity is maintained.
"There are also additional health and security assistant staff that support these positions."
Mr Hayes said the health and security assistants were used as "wardsmen" by the hospital, who helped to move patients from ward to ward.
"Those people cannot be removed from those patients, so effectively, that's a resource that is not able to be used at all," he said.
"They should only be doing activities like cleaning so they can actually drop and run when needed, as opposed to being involved with patients."
He said their members had reported that aggression levels at the hospital were "sky high".
Not just from patients, but visitors as well.
Related: Call for more security at hospitals