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14 Jan 2016

Knee-jerk calls to arm hospital security guards with guns following a double-shooting at Nepean Hospital would be “a very dangerous path to go down”, AMA President Professor Brian Owler has warned.

Speaking after a violent attack in which a drug-affected patient managed to get hold of a gun during a struggle with a police officer and security guards at the Nepean Hospital’s emergency department, Professor Owler said that although security arrangements should be reviewed in light of the incident, bringing more guns into hospitals was not the answer.

“Calls for people to be armed in our emergency departments, I think, is a very bad way to go,” he said. “We need less guns, not more, in our society and, as we saw through this incident, it actually raises the dangers for people, including the doctors, nurses and other patients.”

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that the shooter was a 39-year-old former nurse who had ongoing problems with the drug ice.

According to the report, the man had been arrested earlier in the day, and was taken to Nepean Hospital on Tuesday evening after sustaining injuries including a suspected broken jaw.

While at the hospital’s emergency department, it is alleged he threatened a female doctor, prompting police to be called. When the first officer on the scene, Senior Constable Luke Warburton, attempted to arrest the man, a scuffle broke out during which the man seized the police officer’s gun and fired two shots, hitting Senior Constable Warburton and a security guard, before being subdued.

Senior Constable Warburton was left in a critical condition after being shot in the upper thigh, but was later stabilised. The security guard was shot in the leg and was listed as being in a stable condition.

The man has been charged with shooting with intent to murder, discharging a firearm to resist arrest, and detaining for advantage.

Professor Owler said the incident was “very alarming”, and highlighted both the influence of the drug ice in increasing the risk of violence in emergency departments, and the dangers of having guns in hospitals.

The AMA President said that although assaults and attacks in hospital emergency departments was not a new problem, “ice has really raised the level to a greater height…the drug really causes people to be very difficult to control, particularly when they’re in these episodes of psychosis”.

He said it was not uncommon for doctors and nurses to need the help of hospital security guards in helping to control, and occasionally to restrain, such patients until they could be sedated.

But Professor Owler said guns were not the answer.

“We need to…review the security, particularly [to] make sure that there are ample security guards in our emergency departments, and that there are Rapid Response teams that can subdue people when they are in these sorts of situations,” he said.

But he warned that arming security guards would be “a very dangerous path to go down, and I think this incident illustrates exactly why that is.

“What we need to do is make sure that we have ample security, that we have the proper resources so that we can protect our doctors and nurses.

“That doesn't mean more guns, we need to look at other ways that we can protect them.”

Adrian Rollins

Published: 14 Jan 2016