Shock and sadness greeted the news of the overnight death of Melbourne heart surgeon Dr Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann, 41, following an alleged assault at Box Hill Hospital on 30 May after he reportedly asked a hospital visitor to stop smoking at the entrance to the building.
In a statement, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) offered its sincere condolences to Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s family and said it condemned violence against frontline medical and hospital staff.
“On behalf of the College, our thoughts are with Patrick’s family at this sad time,” RACS President Dr John Batten said. “Patrick’s commitment to the field of surgery will not be forgotten.”
“RACS campaigns for respect in the workplace and advocates against preventable injury including single punch attacks,” he said.
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) also offered its deep condolences and urged greater efforts to eradicate violence in hospitals.
ACEM President Professor Tony Lawler said the sad news of Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s death was a reminder of the dangers faced by healthcare workers across Australia.
“Any workplace, including hospitals, should be safe, and free of the threat of violence,” Professor Lawler said.
“We urge all stakeholders and governments to work together on a comprehensive whole-of-system approach to eradicate violence in our hospitals.”
Victoria Police has previously charged a 22-year-old man with intentionally causing serious injury in relation to the alleged assault. They said today that investigators will now await the results of a post mortem before reviewing charges.
Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the State Government’s thoughts, hopes and best wishes had been with Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann and his family over the past few weeks.
“Our compassion and care is now with his loved ones and friends enduring this devastation and heartbreak,” she said. “So too it is with those that worked alongside him at Box Hill Hospital and indeed, all of those across our health system who considered Patrick a colleague.”Federal Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King also sent condolences to Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s loved ones and friends, to his colleagues at Box Hill Hospital, “and to the entire health profession grappling with this heartbreaking loss of a fine surgeon”.
“Every Australian has the right to be safe at their workplace,” King said. “Today, our society needs to reaffirm our commitment to keeping our health professionals safe.”
King welcomed the recent commitment from the Victorian Government to invest an additional $20 million in the Health Service Violence Prevention Fund, and the commitment to upgrade behavioural assessment rooms in a range of public hospital emergency departments.
She said Labor will support any effort across states and territories to protect healthcare workers.
The ACEM has previously called on state governments across the country to take action to protect healthcare workers.
‘While the moves in Victoria to improve the safety and security of hospital staff are welcomed, there is a risk that other states are not paying enough attention to the same issues,’ ACEM President-Elect Dr Simon Judkins said in a statement earlier this month.
‘Emergency department teams, including emergency physicians and nurses, are on the frontline dealing with the devastating effects of excessive alcohol consumption and often experience assaults or physical threats from drunk patients. We call on all health ministers to stop the assaults on healthcare staff across Australia.’