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Victorian Auditor General report: hospitals are failing to protect staff

Victorian Auditor General report: hospitals are failing to protect staff

The Victorian Auditor General’s Office (VAGO) has released the findings of its review of employee health and wellbeing in Victorian public hospitals. It will not surprise members to learn that the results are not good.

The audit, released in mid-November, examined the Department of Health, WorkSafe Victoria and three hospitals: Austin Health, Barwon Health and Central Gippsland Health during the period November 2019 to July 2022.

The audit’s three key findings were:

  1. Hospital employees’ mental health and wellbeing has deteriorated since 2019.
  2. The department does not effectively oversee if hospitals protect their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
  3. Audited hospitals do not have processes that effectively manage psychosocial hazards to protect their employees.

That workers’ mental health and wellbeing has deteriorated since 2019, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, is not news to members. Neither are the department’s lack of oversight and the gaps in hospitals’ processes to identify and effectively manage psychosocial hazards – but these are measures that we must actively seek to improve.

The OHS Act mandates that hospitals should have effective processes to identify and manage psychosocial hazards. VAGO’s report found that all three audited services do have processes for managing some psychosocial hazards, but they also had significant gaps in their processes for:

  • assessing and managing occupational violence and aggression (OVA) risks
  • identifying and managing fatigue.

Implementation of the ANMF (Vic Branch) 10-point plan to end violence and aggression has been a requirement under the Public Sector EBA since 2016, but the Branch is aware that many employers have been far too slow to action the plan’s practical and cultural changes required to make nurses, midwives and carers safer at work.

One of the key issues seems to be management misunderstanding of the purpose of the plan – that it is about systematic prevention. Currently, too many services are still reactive in their approach to OVA.

The Branch’s OHS manager recently gave a presentation at a Victorian Public Services Commissioner/WorkSafe forum on OVA on implementation of the 10-point plan. We will use VAGO’s audit to help reiterate the plan’s importance to management, and members can help too by ensuring they report any incident of OVA to their employer via VHIMS/Riskman or similar, and to us at ANMF via the OVA incident notification form.

Reporting to your employer is vital to ensure they have an accurate understanding of how, and how often, OVA is occurring in your workplace. Reporting to ANMF is vital as it enables us to support you and your colleagues, and take any necessary action. Reporting OVA to ANMF can result in systemic change within your workplace.

On matters of fatigue, the Branch believe that one of the key levers we can pull to help address the problem is changing how we roster. The Victorian rostering project has been investigating how rostering can be improved to reduce fatigue-related illness. The project is nearing its end and we will report back to members once the report and recommendations are finalised.

Will the VAGO audit help?

In response to its findings, VAGO made three key recommendations:

  1. The Department of Health should develop and implement a comprehensive framework to monitor and report on hospital employees’ mental health and wellbeing. The framework should include:
    • performance measures on OVA and fatigue
    • be based on survey and non-survey data
    • be monitored quarterly
    • be publicly reported on annually.
  2. The department should develop and implement a framework to monitor, evaluate and report on the outcomes of the programs it funds to support hospital employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
  3. The audited hospitals, in consultation with the department, should develop and implement a comprehensive employee mental health and wellbeing framework. This recommendation has been accepted by Barwon Health and Central Gippsland Health, and accepted in principal by Austin Health.

The Branch will consult with the department and the relevant ministers on how, and when, they plan to implement the recommendations. Interested members can read the full VAGO report at audit.vic.gov.au.

WorkCover overhaul

VAGO’s audit comes as the state government seeks to overhaul the WorkCover system and increase employer responsibility for staff mental health injuries.

The government’s plans are aimed at improving the financial sustainability of the WorkCover scheme but may come at the expense of workers by reducing eligibility requirements for mental injury claims.

We will keep you updated as developments occur.

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