Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service charged over violent patient attacks on nurses

One of Queensland’s biggest regional health services could face major fines for failing to protect its staff after a nurse suffered brain injuries in a patient attack and another had a knife held to her throat.  

The Office of the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor has charged Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service (DDHHS) with four counts of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers.

In court documents obtained by the ABC, prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle detailed one incident in July 2019 when a male patient, who had been transferred from prison to Toowoomba Hospital’s Acute Mental Health Unit, attacked a nurse.

The nurse was struck in the head before the inmate tried to put him in a choke hold.

Mr Guilfoyle said the attack resulted in “brain trauma, cardiac arrest, and a hypoxic and traumatic brain injury”.

He said the hospital failed to comply with its duties by ensuring there were at least two staff present during the incident, or at least a security officer.

Knife held to throat

In a separate incident in November 2020, a nurse at a residential aged care facility at the Oakey Hospital had a knife held to her throat. 

The prosecutor said DDHHS failed to implement safety measures, such as conducting health safety risk assessments before admitting patients, and failed to provide adequate training.

Mr Guilfoyle said there had been a risk of death or serious injury to staff at the facility.

Aaron Guilfoyle walks outside court
Prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle filed the latest charges in March.(ABC News: Jennifer Huxley)

A ‘lack of security’

The Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) said some hospitals, including the Acute Mental Health Unit, now had around the clock security, but other facilities still lacked protection.

She said there was also a lack of security at other major rural hospitals including Warwick, Kingaroy, Stanthorpe, Dalby, Chinchilla, and Goondiwindi.

“The QNMU continues to campaign for 24/7 security at all major rural hospitals and wherever it is required,” Ms Andersen said.

DDHHS declined to comment while the case was before court.

If found guilty, it faces fines of up to $1.5 million for each offence.

The case is due to return to the Toowoomba Magistrates Court in May.