Nurses and Midwives Association General Secretary Brett Holmes with the Health Minister Brad Hazzard. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)
Nurses and Midwives Association General Secretary Brett Holmes with the Health Minister Brad Hazzard. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

Union welcomes new laws to protect nurses

AS REPORTS of abuse and aggression directed toward those on the COVID-19 frontline rise, tough new measures have been introduced.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association has welcomed the new laws - introduced by the State Government last week - which are aimed at curbing abuse directed at health practitioners.

Last week, the association confirmed reports of health workers across the district, including at Grafton Base Hospital being abused by members of the public for wearing their uniform.

The new laws give NSW Police the power to issue a $5,000 on-the-spot fine for breaching the Public Health Regulation 2012 Act. Offenders also risk imprisonment if they are caught assaulting nurses, doctors, midwives or paramedics.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the level of verbal abuse and aggression towards frontline health workers in uniform was abhorrent and had to stop.

"We've had dozens of reports from our members who have been abused in recent weeks, often while wearing their scrubs in the community and also in COVID-19 screening clinics," he said.

"From nurses and midwives in hospital settings to aged care - all health workers deserve to feel safe in their uniform. It's appalling behaviour by members of the public, especially when these assaults are happening against highly skilled, trained professionals.

"Nurses and midwives are leaders when it comes to infection control protocols, hand hygiene and public safety. They are at the frontline in tackling this pandemic and must be applauded for the work they're doing to keep patients and our broader community safe."

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said it was incomprehensible that measures like the ones introduced last week were necessary during a deadly global pandemic, but police stand ready to respond.

"Foul acts like coughing and spitting, which can potentially spread COVID-19, pose a risk to public safety, so police won't hesitate to take action," he said.

"The rules are clear and they apply to everyone, so if you decide to ignore a direction, you will be caught and you will receive a hefty fine and possibly a prison sentence."