OHS Canada Magazine

B.C. Nurses’ Union vows to press charges for violent incidents

Union aims to protect nurses from patient violence

(Canadian OH&S News) — The president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU), British Columbia’s largest nursing organization, has said that the union plans to start pursuing legal action whenever a nurse is injured by a patient while on the job, as long as the victim authorizes the action.

At the annual BCNU convention in Vancouver on Feb. 24, Gayle Duteil announced to hundreds of attendees that the union would press charges against attackers as well as healthcare facilities. BCNU has also developed a new policy that will provide support for nurses who experience physical or psychological injury at work, she revealed.

“We have to change society’s expectation that just because you are unwell and in a healthcare facility, that it is okay to assault a nurse, to hit or pinch or spit or bite or verbally yell at them,” BCNU vice president Christine Sorensen told COHSN. “We can’t continue to allow that to happen.”

BCNU’s intention, Sorensen added, was to get B.C. healthcare authorities to respond properly to violence against healthcare workers. “They, unfortunately, seem more interested in downplaying or covering up the violence against our nurses instead of protecting our nurses,” she charged. “And we want them to fully investigate and provide solutions that are going to reduce it.”

Sorensen cited a recent violent assault that healthcare authorities had neglected until BCNU’s intervention. “Our member reported it to WorkSafeBC,” she explained, “who had not been informed of the event and felt it was an urgent matter and, in fact, went out to the site immediately to follow up.” If it weren’t for this report, the police would not have been informed and no investigation would have been conducted, she said.


Following Duteil’s announcement, Terry Lake, the B.C. Minister of Health, told reporters at the provincial legislature in Victoria that the ministry was already working with healthcare professionals to reduce occupational violence as much as possible.

“Health authorities have a lot of programs in place to reduce violence and deescalate with training,” Lake told the reporters on Feb. 24. “If someone is assaulted, then often, I think it’s appropriate to have that looked at if there’s criminal behaviour involved.”

In the case of assailants with mental illnesses, Lake said that it was up to the legal system to determine whether they were criminally responsible for their actions. “Often, there’s a lack of awareness on the part of the patient,” he noted. “Fortunately, we have very well-trained nurses, psychiatrists and people who work in the mental-health system. They know how to deescalate behaviour.”

Sorensen said that BCNU was also planning to create a phone line, through which healthcare professionals could report violent incidents, by June 11. “So we want to have our hotline up and running, so that we can find out more of what’s going on with our members,” she said.

She added that security, training and staffing were woefully inadequate in B.C. healthcare facilities. “Nurses do not go to nursing school to learn takedowns, to learn how to deal with violent patients.”

Lake acknowledged that nursing on the frontline could be a dangerous job. “When people are ill, whether they have physical ailments or mental illness, they can react in a surprising way that can be violent,” he said. “We’ve seen that happen, where the patient does become violent and people get hurt.”

Asked whether the BCNU’s plans were a broadside against the Ministry of Health, Lake replied that he intended to assist healthcare unions in making their workplaces safer.

“Their members deserve to have a safe workplace,” he said, adding that when people are mentally or physically ill, “their behaviour can be unpredictable. We need to make sure nurses are well-trained, that personnel are available to deescalate and to manage any potentially violent situation.

“The safety of the workplace is extremely important to us,” Lake said.

Print this page



1 Comment » for B.C. Nurses’ Union vows to press charges for violent incidents
  1. Saskkat says:

    For once, it sounds like Violence against Nurse (health care workers) is been taken seriously.
    Absolutely the Nurses need to be trained to protect themselves, and that there is enough personnel to handle an inflammatory situation.
    Its true that people with mental illness can’t always be held accountable for their behaviors. But in many instances it becomes a catch phrase, and regardless of the cognition of the offender, they are not held accountable because they have a diagnosis of some mental illness.
    I worked long enough in psychiatric facility to learn, that many of the clients use their psych. diagnosis as an excuse to get away with socially unacceptable behaviors, and so does the legal system. Which has lead me to the belief that even the mentally ill should be held accountable for their behaviors and crimes.
    As far as violence to health care workers, whether it is physical, verbal or emotional, from the client, his family or friends, it should not be tolerated in any degree.
    Health care and services should be denied to the offenders.
    The question is, would any of these violent loud mouths tolerate any of this behavior towards them in their workplace?
    I have been a R.N. for over 35 years, and realize that the sick and injured are more vulnerable, but this still is not an excuse for verbal or physical violence against care givers. Been sick/injured does not relieve the patient of common everyday manners and restraint.
    If these offenders were denied care or any of the benefits to themselves or loved ones, Slowly but surely, the behaviors and expectations would change. Health care workers could feel safe in their workplace. Satisfied and safe employees, are much more productive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *