HAMILTON, Ont. — Hamilton registered practical nurses (RPNs) are calling on the provincial government and area MPPs to help stop pervasive and increasing patient attacks on nurses. Just returned from a conference on health sector violence, they want laws to better protect them by charging violent patients under the criminal code and that include, enforceable whistleblower and no reprisal protections “for nurses brave enough” to report violent incidents.

Statistics Canada reports that 47 per cent of RPNs have been physically assaulted by a patient or a patient’s family member in the last year. All 150 RPNs from across Ontario who attended the conference on violence held in Kingston last week, reported that they have been assaulted at work. They also agreed that understaffing in hospitals and long-term care homes — the result of too low provincial funding — makes them vulnerable to patient aggression.

“Staffing levels are low and nurse workloads too high. Compounding that, hospitals are not replacing sick nurses. There are fewer staff to deal with aggressive patients,” says Linda Clayborne, a Hamilton forensic psychiatric nurse and a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 786 executive member. “Violence has long-term effects on nurses, well beyond the concussion or the broken bones. The psychological impacts take a long time to heal. In some cases, the injuries sustained are so profound that the victim can never return to nursing,” she added.

2007/2008 data shows that Ontario hospitals provided 3.6 less hours of nursing care than the Canadian average. By 2012 nursing hours had been cut by another 2.1 hours. Ontario spends $353 less per citizen on acute hospital care than any other province. 

Over the last few weeks several Hamilton hospital nurses have been aggressively attacked by patients. The nurses were seriously injured. In one case nurses were repeatedly punched in the head, with one losing consciousness after being thrown against a wall. The Hamilton nurse attacks are not unique. Recently, nurses in Cornwall, North Bay and Kingston suffered serious injuries from patient attacks. In one of the attacks a nurse was beaten unconscious with a lead pipe.

“There is a systemic culture in the health sector that violence is part of the work. Nurses are often blamed for assaults that are directed at them. Those brave enough to report violent attacks often face employer reprisals. So there is under-reporting of patient violence. Nurses expect the Ontario government to move quickly to better protect them in the workplace,” says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

In addition to provincial action, nurses at the Kingston conference said they want employers to work cooperatively with them to stop violent attacks and make hospitals and long-term care homes safer for both staff and patients.

For more information please contact:

Michael Hurley
President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE)
 416-884-0770

Linda Clayborne
CUPE 786
 905-516-9817

Stella Yeadon
CUPE Communications
 416-559-9300