Brave nurses survive pack attack by 11 violent patients

For their heroic efforts during a patient riot at Baillie Henderson in 2013 are Group Bravery Citation recipients (from left) Thomas Mathew, Duncan Grills, Tom McGovern, Richard Ashton and Linda Herbertson.
For their heroic efforts during a patient riot at Baillie Henderson in 2013 are Group Bravery Citation recipients (from left) Thomas Mathew, Duncan Grills, Tom McGovern, Richard Ashton and Linda Herbertson. Kevin Farmer

RICHARD Ashton says the actions that lead to him and his colleagues earning a Group Bravery Citation weren't heroic.

They were a matter of life and death, when 11 Baillie Henderson Ridley Unit patients rioted inside the medium security ward the morning of January 20, 2013.

Mr Ashton and colleagues Geo George, Duncan Grills, Linda Herbertson, Tom McGovern and Thomas Mathew were on shift when the 11 Ridley Unit patients rioted in the secure ward.

One patient, armed with a steel leg from a table, threatened a nurse in the ward, triggering a pack-like attack on staff from other patients.

What followed was an horrific and violent attack on the nursing staff, leaving Mr Grills with a smashed eye socket and others with physical scars.

Three separate brawls broke out when staff attempted to restrain the patients before it was contained.

The critical incident has left physical and mental scars on the staff rostered to work that night, including nurse manager Mr Ashton.


"One incident put paid to my career," Mr Ashton said.

"I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder out of it, and I had been nursing for about 35 years.

"The patients involved took it upon themselves to have a bit of fun and try and belt the shit out of some nurses.

"These are patients - mad patients but they're not stupid.

"These were patients I dealt with and that I had trust in."

Mr Ashton said he was "incredibly proud" of the staff's actions that night, and acknowledged that without their responses, the outcome could have been more damaging.

He said by some miracle there were few serious physical injuries.

"I didn't get involved in the physical side of it but walked into the unit at the stand-off," he said.

"Duncan (Grills) got smashed in his cheek bone and got a titanium bar in his face when he got coward punched from behind.

"When I walked into the ward, there was blood everywhere."

Mr Ashton said the Group Bravery Citation, awarded under the Australian Bravery Decorations by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, went a little way to acknowledging the dangers of nursing.


"It's about time there is recognition for nurses," he said.

"Violence in the workplace is a daily thing for nurses, and not just those in psychiatric facilities.

"What they have to put up with in Emergency Departments is horrific.

"I would rather be nursing, but this (award) is recognition for us and for nurses."

A seventh member of the nursing staff was nominated for the award but declined to accept.

Mr Ashton was critical of Queensland Health in the department's dealing with staff immediately after the riot.

He said the government department's system for handling the incident at the time, and over the past two years, was lacking in terms of support for staff at Baillie Henderson.

"Queensland Health were terrible the way they went through the post-part of it," he said.

"They continue to be unsupportive, actually. So, no, I haven't got much praise for Queensland Health."

Since 1975, there have been five awards of the Cross of Valour, 146 awards of the Star of Courage, 1217 awards of the Bravery Medal, 1926 Commendations for Brave Conduct and 157 awards of the Group Bravery Citation.

Topics:  baillie henderson baillie henderson hospital bravery awards darling downs health and hospital service editors picks mental health

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