Sober truth of hospital safety

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
The emergency department at Geraldton Hospital.
Camera IconThe emergency department at Geraldton Hospital. Credit: Geoff Vivian The Geraldton Guardian

WA Health Minister Roger Cook has announced $382,500 in increased security spending for Geraldton Health Campus this year, two years after he closed Geraldton’s sobering-up centre to save $500,000.

Mr Cook said he closed the centre because of “under attendance”.

“In 2016, 10 people accounted for 44 per cent of all admissions,” he said. “The centre was operating at less than half its target capacity with a small number of people repeatedly using the centre.”

This begs the question: how many people affected by alcohol and other drugs such as methamphetamine does it take to disrupt police and health services and threaten community safety?

While hospital emergency department staff and police are prevented from talking directly to the media, the WA Police Union predicted a spike in the number of intoxicated people they were required to look after.

Police are no longer allowed to arrest an intoxicated person until they are pronounced medically fit.

Police Union representatives say this results in officers spending much time at the Geraldton Hospital emergency department, waiting for someone to be assessed.

This time last year, Police Union representative Mick Gill said officers had been redirected from other tasks to drive drunk people around, seeking safe places for them to stay.

Geraldton Hospital has since reported a marked increase in “code black” emergencies where a person threatens harm to themselves or others.

Mr Cook said the number of code black emergencies recorded had risen from 28 in 2017 to 63 in the first 11 months of last year.

He said the higher figure came about because health staff had been encouraged to “proactively” call security early.

The Geraldton sobering-up centre was one of a string of such facilities set up across WA in response to a 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody key recommendation.

For four nights a week, they had staff on hand who were trained to look after people affected by alcohol and other drugs.

Has the Minister really saved any money by closing the service?

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails