Hundreds of staff share ideas at first Safety Symposium

A panel discussion with NSW Health deputy secretary Phil Minns, legislator The Honourable Peter Anderson and SafeWork NSW director of health and safe design Jim Kelly, led by WSLHD Organisational Development and Learning associate director Noel Posus (right).

Staff voices were front and centre at Doltone House on Wednesday for the first annual Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Safety Symposium.

More than 350 staff from across the District joined policy makers and leaders – including the NSW Health Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and a former WA Police Commissioner – to discuss how to create a culture of staff safety at WSLHD.

Blacktown Hospital nurse Rossana van Meeuwen, Westmead Hospital nurse Kazuyo Okuyama and WSLHD specialist dentist Dr Avanti Karve shared their personal experiences of patient aggression and violence, and the afternoon was dedicated to generating and prioritising ideas and actions.

Westmead Hospital ICU acting nurse unit manager Kazuyo Okuyama, Blacktown Hospital nurse unit manager Rossana van Meeuwen and WSLHD specialist dentist Dr Avanti Karve.

WSLHD chief executive Graeme Loy said a formal staff wellbeing program was one of the ideas from the day that would be immediately prioritised.

“It has been a fabulous day – the combination of different speakers, the staff panel and the World Cafes has been very successful,” Graeme said.

“We have received hundreds of suggestions on how we can keep our staff safe while continuing to provide the best possible care to our patients.

“We will be consolidating all of the information into three or four key themes with actions and suggestions, and will consult with staff regarding what we have heard and the proposed solutions.”

The ideas and outcomes of the day will be reported to the Culture Steering Committee and progressed by the eight action groups, with updates to come in late March or early April.

The Safety Symposium began with a welcome to Gadigal country from Uncle Allen Madden, followed by Graeme’s opening address about the importance of creating a culture of physical, mental and emotional safety as a top priority in the district’s five-year culture strategy.

NSW Health Secretary Elizabeth Koff spoke about Peter Anderson’s state-wide review of security in hospitals, as well as the need to get the balance right between open access to healthcare and the protection of our staff.

Peter Anderson was present to share his insights in an expert panel discussion alongside NSW Health deputy secretary Phil Minns and SafeWork NSW director of health and safe design Jim Kelly. The panel agreed that staff should never expect or normalise any form of abuse, but rather report every incident to enable evidence-based change.

Former WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan.

Karl O’Callaghan, former Police Commissioner for Western Australia, acknowledged the mutual challenge of ensuring staff safety in policing and healthcare. He highlighted the importance of management developing a deep understanding of the issues faced by frontline staff, to inform sound safety strategies.

Broadcast journalist and Dementia Australia ambassador Mark Gibson shared a moving account of his grandmother’s descent into dementia, and encouraged staff to remember that challenging patients need understanding, patience and care.

After the panel of WSLHD staff shared their stories, staff participated in World Café discussions to identify what the district needs to start, continue or stop doing to better protect the safety of staff.

Some of the key themes of the suggestions included changes to orientation, aligning clinical service plans with safety plans, better access to interpreter services, more celebration of diversity, more practical training to complement online training, and reinstating the WSLHD Violence Prevention Program.

To get involved in the WSLHD Culture Strategy, please email