Waiting is not an emergency

Let us treat the people who need it most, first.

waiting is not an emergency. Let us treat the people who need it most, first.In the Emergency Department lives depend on us treating the people who need it most, first. If your condition is less critical you will be cared for, but may have to wait a little longer. While that can be frustrating, turning it into another emergency isn’t helping anyone.

If there is one single point of convergence for every aspect of patient care, it is the Emergency Department (ED). 

Challenging behaviour infographic (PDF 452KB)

Here, patients in need of every possible type of care can present at the one time. Most are unfamiliar with ED protocol. They are intimidated by the environment and perceived lack empathy. Managing all of these different medical and emotional needs simultaneously can be extremely demanding for staff, and the pace is relentless. 

In this pressure cooker environment there are many dynamics at play that can lead to instances of challenging behaviour. Extended waiting times, anxious patients and besieged staff, are all susceptible to experiencing or exhibiting the full spectrum of challenging behaviour

Do people really act aggressively or violently towards ED staff?

Yes, sometimes on the job our staff face verbal abuse, threats of intimidation and violence, being spat on, through to physical assault such as kicks, bites and punches.

Emergency Departments across SA have seen an increase in these types of incidents, it is becoming more frequent.

This can be distressing not only for our staff but for other patients and carers within the ED too.

Why would someone act aggressively towards ED staff?

Challenging behaviour can commonly present with patients who:

  • have a particular clinical condition such as cognitive impairment, mental illness or substance abuse
  • and in emergency, traumatic, stressful or emotional situations such as emergency presentations.

Further information can be found in the fact sheet (PDF 114KB) on how challenging behaviour commonly presents and the causes of this behaviour. 

What is the impact on our ED staff?

Everyone deserves to be able to come to work without having to deal with verbal abuse, threats of intimidation or physical assault. This includes all of our health care workers, whose job it is to care for us all.

The impact of challenging behaviour, such as verbal abuse is accumulative. The innuendo, derogatory or offensive remarks, insults, overt displays of aggression, and are all too often mediated by compassion for the patient's circumstances. The acts frequently go unreported, or are simply tolerated as 'part of the job'. Over time this contributes to staff attitude, low morale and diminished self-worth.

Are there possible consequences for a person if they are charged related to this type of incident?

Legal consequences

  • Offences include assault, sexual assault, property damage, disorderly or offensive behaviour.
  • You may have to spend time in jail. The maximum sentence for serious assaults on public officers is 25 years. Or you might have to do community service.
  • Many industries won't employ someone with a criminal history. You may lose your current employment because of the blot on your record or because you need to take time off work for court appearances or because you can't fulfil your work duties.
  • You may experience limited travel opportunities due to a conviction in countries like the US.

Social consequences

  • What people think about us affects how we feel about ourselves. A shameful incident that goes against social norms such as assaulting a health care worker can result in ridicule, social ostracism and other forms of bullying. It can affect personal relationships, you may lose friends because of what you did and respect from your family.

What can I do to support our ED staff?

Respect our ED staff because they're here to help. Make it socially unacceptable amongst your peers to be disrespectful, threaten or harm a health care worker.

Talk with younger members of your family to educate them about the important role health care workers play and how we should always treat them with respect in case we need their help.