Covering up violence only perpetuates it

The recent murder of nurse Gayle Woodford has sent shock waves across the Australian nursing community. Like all outback nurses the 56-year-old woman was expected to attend to sick adults and children on her own, in remote indigenous communities. Apparently Gayle was called out late one evening. Her stolen ambulance was found the following day, and her body subsequently recovered from a shallow grave. All details of her murder have been kept secret by the police. She leaves behind two children and a husband.

An on-line petition was started to abolish all single nurse posts in Australia and make it mandatory for two responders to attend all after hours call outs in government, indigenous and not for profit health centers across Australia.

Apparently a private Facebook page has also been set up, allowing Remote Area Nurses discuss being the caught in the middle of drug and alcohol fueled violence, bureaucratic indifference, and indigenous communities being aware that there will be no consequences for violent behavior.

This terrible incident has brought to light a long history of violence against rural and remote nurses.

A research paper on trends in workplace violence in remote area nursing showed that 28% of rural area nurses had suffered a physical assault in the past 12 months. The author of the study says she experienced numerous episodes of violence, including 21 episodes of home invasions. Remote nursing work pays big money, up to $180,000 a year. The nurses are managed by Australia’s fragmented mess of private, community, state and federal organizations.

Australia has multiple government health departments, filled with thousands of well-paid staff, collecting generous superannuation schemes, while working in secure, inner city government buildings. Do these well-paid clerks accept violence as part of their job? I think not.

It’s not as though the health industry is short on money.

A recent Four Corners show revealed that an estimated 50 billion a year is being wasted on over servicing. That’s one-third of the entire Australian health budget. Many of these unnecessary procedures are occurring in private hospitals. Private specialists can up to four times their public wage, by performing the same procedure in a private hospital. Medical devices like hip replacements cost up to double the price for private hospitals.

There is more than enough money in the bloated health industry, to protect our doctors and nurses.

The issue of drug and alcohol fueled violence against ground floor health professionals is a large one. All public emergency department staff face violence on a regular basis. Like remote area nurses, hospital staff can also face disapproval from management when asking for ‘patients’ be made accountable for their behavior. Working in public hospitals, I have received physical and verbal threats, both in  Emergency Departments and on the wards. No actions were ever taken to discipline the perpetrator. We were just expected ‘take it as part of the job’.

Hospital managers can easily see junior doctors and nurses as disposable items, or ‘churn’. Public hospitals are training grounds for hundreds of doctors. They also employ vast pools of casual nurses, many traveling or on work visas. Some violent patients are quite media savvy and adept at manipulating a situation to make themselves appear the ‘victim’.

The billion dollar health industry appears to view ground floor health professionals as disposable band-aids. Stick on anther nurse or doctor and the problem will be covered up for another day.

Australian has been named as having one of the highest rates of illegal drug use in the world. The victims are often the ‘good Samaritans’. It’s time to stop hiding behind anonymity and closed social media pages. And to start naming the perpetrators, and demanding accountability.

© Wikihospitals 2016


Violence against mental health professionals Innovations in clinical Neuroscience – 2011 Mar; 8(3): 34–39.
Violence in Emergency Departments The Medical Journal of Australia Med J Aust 2005; 183 (7): 362-365.
Petition demanding protection for Remote Area Nurses ABC 

  • The percent of rural area nurses who have been physically assaulted in the 12 months 28.6% 28.6%
  • The percent of mental health workers who report experiencing violence as part of their job 68% 68%
  • The percent of Australian nurses who report experiencing threats of violence in the workplace 60% 60%