Mental health nurses are bearing the brunt of assaults within Canberra's health services, new figures reveal, as the union steps up its calls for better security and conditions.
A government response to a question from opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne in the ACT Parliament showed there have been 340 reported assaults on staff members within ACT Health between January 1 2017 and June 30, 2018.
Mental Health, Justice Health and Alcohol and Drug Services reported by far the greatest chunk of assaults at 129 - 39 per cent of all reported assaults.
The figures showed staff in rehabilitation and care were the second most common victims with 63 reported incidents.
By comparison, in the same period, there were 37 reported assaults reported by critical care staff.
Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury said he was deeply concerned about the level of physical assaults on mental health staff.
The figures showed nurses were the most likely staff members to be assaulted in the course of their duties.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT secretary Matthew Daniel said the volume of assaults was alarming.
He was particularly concerned about assaults within the adult mental health unit at Canberra Hospital and the secure mental health unit Dhulwa.
"There's obviously something not right to have so many reported assaults," he said.
"You also have to think of the impact on a person each assault has."
He said there needed to be a greater security presence at the ward level at the adult mental health unit, with currently no security guards on duty except for patients held under the Crimes Act.
He said nurses needed better staffing levels, better care planning and for patients to have timely assessments.
"There's a range of emotions going on, some people are resigned to further assaults, some are scared to go into the workplace," Mr Daniel said.
"They are in an environment where they can't always provide the best levels of care to patients because they are concerned about their own safety."
He said some nurses had ended up in the emergency department with significant injuries due to the assaults and have been required to take significant time off work.
Mr Daniel said the mental health impact of assaults was less known, but believes people are suffering.
He said the approach by management to staff safety, which is unnecessarily bureaucratic, was the greatest difficulty staff faced, not patient behaviour.
Mrs Dunne said nurses should be given greater security and offered self defence training to help them manage violent situations.
“Going to work shouldn’t be a dangerous thing for nurses to do," she said,
"This is totally unacceptable.
"Nurses shouldn’t be left alone with potentially aggressive patients without adequate backup and training to help them appropriately respond to violence.
“Despite the staggering number of assaults against hospital staff, I have seen no effort or movement by this government to manage the violence."
Mr Rattenbury said the government was currently working on a nurse safety strategy.
"The level of physical assaults is something that I am deeply concerned about," he told the ACT Parliament.
"It is why with the nurse safety strategy we are currently working on I have engaged with the chief nurse to indicate my expectation that they particularly consider the role of mental health nurses and the special circumstances that they face, because they do face particular challenges compared to regular nurses."
When responding to distressing images of a nurse's injuries sustained in the adult mental health unit last week, Mr Rattenbury said the primary way to deal with violence was through a clinical approach.
"Our staff should not go home at the end of the day having been assaulted," he said.