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Savage Attack On Police Officer Sparks Debate On Infectious Disease Testing

The alleged savage assault of a young police officer has reignited concerns regarding the safety of our officers while on duty.

The young police officer -- aged just 22 -- had her face bitten and hair pulled out while on duty.

The alleged savage attack occurred just after midday on Sunday, when officers responded to concerns for the welfare of a man at Brighton-Le-Sands unit in Sydney's south.

Police say that upon arrival, the man, 48, became agitated and aggressive, before charging at one of the officers.

Officers deployed a taser and pepper spray, but the man was still allegedly able to force the woman to the ground, pulling out her hair and savagely biting and scratching her face.

Image: Supplied.
Image: Supplied.

It took another taser and additional officers to restrain the man, police said.

The injured constable was taken to St George Hospital and treated for facial injuries before being released.

But it's far from the end of her recovery.

It will be another six months before she receives the results of an infectious disease test.

It means an anxious half year of uncertainty for the officer, who will be unable to hug and kiss her friends and family for fear of potentially passing on any diseases.

President of the Police Association of NSW, Tony King, said the incident highlighted an urgent need for changes to legislation.

Unlike South Australian and Western Australian, NSW has no law requiring people who spit at or attack police officers to undergo mandatory testing for diseases.

“This is a horrific thing for police officers and their families to have to endure," King said.

"This officer like many others will now have to change their lifestyle for fear of passing on possible infection. Can you imagine explaining to your own child why you can’t give them a kiss goodnight?”

Image: provided

Both SA and WA passed legislation in 2014 which requires anybody reasonably suspected of having transferred bodily fluids to emergency personnel -- including police officers -- to undergo testing for communicable diseases.

This includes HIV and other blood-borne viruses.

King said NSW is causing police "serious physical and psychological trauma" by forcing affected officers to endure long waits for test results.

In 2017, a state Parliamentary Committee Inquiry report into violence against emergency services personnel recommended the government consider introducing legislation to allow mandatory disease testing.

But not everyone is on board with the practice.

Six organisations -- Hepatitis NSW, ACON, Sex Workers Outreach Project, NSW Users and AIDS Association, Australian Society for HIV Medicine, and Positive Life NSW -- were signatories on a letter to the Law and Safety Committee warning against introducing mandatory testing.

The letter argued the proposed regime would do little for the stress of police or their families, as it is "based on a misunderstanding of BBV [blood-borne viruses] transmission".

Nicholas Medland, a clinical specialist in HIV and blood-borne viruses and Vice President of ASHM, told 10 daily it simply doesn't apply to most cases.

"In the vast, vast, vast majority of cases where a first responder has been spat at or bitten, it's terribly distressing for the person, it's a real injury and real anxiety for them," Medland said.

"But the actual HIV or hepatitis C transmission risk is almost always minimal and the risk of hepatitis B is prevented by vaccination."

Medland said there is a concern such a system might compromise the universal precautions which have been put in place to deal with these situations, irrespective of whether a person's disease status is known or not.

"The predominant reason we oppose mandatory testing is not just out of a human rights issue of the perpetrator or the person who might be HIV infected, it's just to maintain the very highest level precautions in all situations," he said.