Media release: New research valuing emergency nurses in the watch house

The value of providing 24-hour emergency nursing care for people held in police watch houses is the focus of a new $116,000 research project funded by the Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF).

The research project was developed, following the recommendations of a 2012 coronial inquiry into the death in custody of Herbert John Mitchell which found it was ‘inappropriate’ for police to make medical decisions about watch house detainees.

EMF-funded researcher and Griffith University Associate Professor Julia Crilly said the aim was to find out whether 24-hour on-site nursing care reduced the need and cost of transferring prisoners to a hospital emergency department for medical attention.

“Apart from assessing whether there would be savings to the health system and taxpayers, the research also aims to meet the coronial inquiry recommendations to improve the quality of health care for prisoners,’’ Associate Professor Crilly said.

She said the EMF and Griffith University-funded research would evaluate the health outcomes and cost effectiveness of a trial involving Gold Coast Health emergency nurses at the Southport watch house.

“Prior to this trial, the watch house was staffed a few hours a day by nurses trained in community care,’’ she said.

“During the trial, the addition of ED nurses with specialist skills meant there was a 24 hour nursing presence in the watch house. The nurses could detect and treat more health issues on-site, in conjunction with forensic medical officers who are on-call. This means fewer transfers to hospital.”

It costs more than $900 every time a prisoner needs to be transported to the ED, which requires two police officers and two ambulance officers as well as hospital resources.

Gold Coast Health emergency nurse Katie East, who worked at the watch house, said she could see as many as 30 detainees a shift.

“We see all sorts of issues in the watch house. Things like drug addiction, wounds, alcohol poisoning, patients with mental health illnesses and chronic health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes,” Ms East said.

“Having emergency nurses on-hand means fewer hospital transports and police are able to do their jobs rather than waiting in busy emergency departments guarding prisoners.”

The research announcement follows recent media reports which revealed ambulances were called to Brisbane’s Wacol jails an average of 2.5 times a day last year to transfer prisoners to a hospital emergency department. Some of the ailments were reportedly minor and required only Panadol.

Associate Professor Crilly, who is also employed by Gold Coast Health, said other states were anticipating the results of the research to inform their own practices on medical care for prisoners.

“It’s a great collaboration among EMF, Gold Coast Health, Griffith University, Clinical Forensic Medical Unit, Queensland Police Service and the Queensland Ambulance Service,’’ Associate Professor Crilly said.

The EMF-funded research findings are expected to be released in late 2016.


Posted: 28 October 2015


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