The 2016 murder of remote area nurse Gayle Woodford sent shock waves across the Australian nursing community.

Like all outback nurses the dedicated 56-year-old woman attended to sick adults and children on her own, in remote indigenous communities, with known high levels of alcohol fuelled violence, without any backup.

According to news reports, Gayle was called out late one evening. Her stolen ambulance was found the following day, and her body subsequently recovered from a shallow grave.

She was subsequently found to have been raped, murdered and buried in a shallow grave.

The man now convicted and sentenced for the crime Dudley David Davey, lured Gayle outside her house, by telling her that his grandmother needed panadol. He then raped and killed her, then fled in her ambulance.

A postmortem examination found that the nurse suffered multiple wounds, including blunt-force trauma to the brain, and the final blows Davey inflicted were to stomp twice on the back of her neck. The Guardian 2017.

Few realise that violence against health care workers is a global issue

In a world that takes internet of things, cloud analytics and global tracking systems for granted, remote area nurses seems to have been left behind.

Since 2015 there have been 2 sexual assaults of remote area nurses and the murder of Gayle Woodford.

An online petition was started to abolish all single nurse posts in Australia. The petitioners also called for it to be mandatory for two responders to attend all after hours call outs for government and health workers across Australia.

The petition closed with 138,713 supporters.

Gayle's law has now been passed

In 2017 the South Australian government passed an amendment to the The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law more commonly referred to as ‘Gayle’s Law’, to provide better protection for health practitioners working in remote areas of South Australia.

It was due to come into force the 1st July 2019. This says that single nurse postings will be abolished and call outs will require two health care professionals.

This terrible incident has brought to light a long history of violence against rural and remote nurses.

Reports of violence against remote area nurses working in remote clinics, isolated from city facilities have been dismissed

A research paper on trends in workplace violence in remote area nursing showed that 28% of rural area nurses had suffered a physical assault in the past 12 months. The author of the study says she experienced numerous episodes of violence, including 21 episodes of home invasions.

Remote area nurses are managed by Australia’s fragmented mix of private, community, state and federal organizations.

An American National Crime survey showed that nurses experience work related crime at twice the rate of any other health care provider.

Meanwhile, bureaucrates and politicians work in air conditioned comfort, behind security guards and locked doors

The Australian public service employes 16% of the workforce.

On average they collecting higher wages than their private counterparts as well as generous superannuation schemes.

They are highly unionised, often work in secure, inner city buildings, closed off to the public unless they undergo numerous checks to just enter the lifts.

Do these well-paid clerks who deliver no babies, give no medications and care for no sick people ever accept violence as part of their job?

I think not.

In my experience, violence against health professionals is increasing

While working in public hospitals, I have frequently been on the end of physical and verbal threat. At no time was actions taken to discipline the perpetrator.

I was just expected to ‘take it as part of the job’.

Hospital staff can face disapproval from management when asking for ‘patients’ be made accountable for their behavior.

Meanwhile, some violent patients and relatives are quite media savvy and adept at manipulating a situation to make themselves appear the ‘victim’, no matter how bad their behavior is.

It’s hard not to think that the billion dollar health industry views ground floor staff as disposable band-aids. Stick on another nurse or doctor and the problem will be covered up for another day.

Hospital managers can easily see junior doctors and nurses as disposable items, or ‘churn’.

It’s not good enough for the victims of violence to often the the ‘good Samaritans’ trying to help sick people.

We need to start naming and shaming the perpetrators, demanding accountability from our employers and supporting each other against what is a disgraceful problem.


Violence against mental health professionals Innovations in clinical Neuroscience – 2011 Mar; 8(3): 34–39.
Violence in Emergency Departments The Medical Journal of Australia Med J Aust 2005; 183 (7): 362-365.
Petition demanding protection for Remote Area Nurses ABC  27 Mar 2016

© Wikihospitals 2016