Medical staff speak out about emotional strain of treating victims of alcohol-fuelled violence

By medical reporter Sophie Scott

ABC News

Working in an emergency department is never an easy job, but healthcare workers say it is getting a lot harder.

Doctors say the number of young patients arriving at hospitals with injuries resulting from alcohol-related violence is taking a toll on medical staff.

Neurosurgeon Mark Winder from Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital has had to break bad news to many families whose sons are the victims of alcohol-fuelled violence.

“I had to go and talk to [Daniel Christie’s] family about the fact their son was not going to survive,” he said.

“I must say they were unbelievable about it.”

He says while medical staff are trained to deal with trauma, the increasing number of young people being brought in with alcohol-related injuries makes it more difficult.

“You see the senselessness of it all,” he said.

“These people’s entire life is devastated and it’s not just them – it’s their families. You put yourself in their position and it’s hard to deal with.”

Dr Winder says even those patients who survive can be left with lifelong injuries.

“You have an 18-year-old who gets hit and suffers a head injury, suffers a stroke and has difficulty communicating,” he said.

“This young person is going to need rehabilitation for the rest of their life. And that is devastating for their families.”

Doctors say changes need to be made so fewer young people are the victims of random alcohol-fuelled violence.

“It gets to the point where it becomes like Groundhog Day for us,” Dr Winder said.

“Every time you are on call, you get males with head injuries related to violence and the underlying common denominator is the alcohol. It’s infuriating.”

Julie Greathouse, the senior social worker in the emergency department of Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, has comforted many families devastated by alcohol-fuelled violence.

“I think as staff we need to acknowledge that we witness suffering and grief from families who have experienced major trauma and major injuries,” she said.

She says one of the difficult issues to deal with is that staff know more patients are going to be coming through the door.

Medical staff say what keeps them going is supporting each other and relying on coping mechanisms they have have developed over the years to deal with the suffering they see in hospital.


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