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Threats, slaps, kicking: Report highlights extent of violence against health workers

Author
Local Democracy Reporting,
Publish Date
Tue, 12 Apr 2022, 8:41pm
A new report by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation says hospital nurses are facing "repetitive verbal and physical assaults". Photo / 123RF
A new report by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation says hospital nurses are facing "repetitive verbal and physical assaults". Photo / 123RF

Threats, slaps, kicking: Report highlights extent of violence against health workers

Author
Local Democracy Reporting,
Publish Date
Tue, 12 Apr 2022, 8:41pm

Violence against hospital workers is a widespread problem, but there's been little effort to address it, a nurses' union says. 

A nurse from Auckland's Middlemore Hospital, who asked not to be identified, said violence and aggression from members of the public was a problem staff faced daily. 

"The issue isn't going away and it's getting worse because the health system is under so much pressure and stress [due to Covid-19]," she said. 

In December, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation requested data under the Official Information Act from the country's district health boards, on the number of violent incidents nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants had reported over the past five years. 

But according to a new paper from the union, the responses it received showed the recording of incidents was minimal and the figures didn't reflect the experiences of the country's nurses. 

Without better data to determine the true size of the problem, it would continue to be ignored by health authorities, it said. 

"It appears that under-reporting (due to the multitude of issues facing nurses everyday – time and organisational restraints, structural issues, ineffectual reporting systems, etc) continues to complicate this issue. 

"Every incident of aggression towards a health professional needs to be documented – verbal abuse, threats, slaps, kicking and pushing." 

The paper said many nurses were facing repetitive verbal and physical assaults. 

"Working in this type of environment long-term can have enduring and complex implications. Health professionals must have their safety prioritised and WorkSafe needs to start investigating the health sector for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act." 

A WorkSafe spokesman said the regulator was working with DHBs, unions, the Ministry of Health and others in the healthcare sector in a range of areas, including staff safety. 

A nurse from Auckland's Middlemore Hospital said violence and aggression from members of the public was a problem staff faced daily. Photo / Sylvie Whinray 

"Our current work with the healthcare sector focuses on engagement and education, but we will take action if any business or organisation is deemed to be breaching their requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015." 

The spokesman said WorkSafe couldn't comment on data collected by DHBs. 

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the ministry was aware of, and concerned about, the issue of violence against healthcare workers, including nurses. 

"DHBs are making efforts to address this at an individual DHB level." 

In March, the nurses' union said verbal abuse against health staff was worse under Covid-19 visitor restrictions. 

It said it was concerned the true extent of the problem couldn't be determined because not all cases were being recorded. 

A Middlemore Hospital worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said a lot of people didn't like the restricted visitor policy and were verbally abusive towards staff. 

But the worker said while cases involving physical violence were recorded, incidents involving verbal aggression often were not. 

A report released by the union in 2019 looked at violence against workers in the health sector. 

The paper found a link between violence and aggressive behaviour by patients and visitors to health facilities and their use of substances, including alcohol, methamphetamine and synthetic drugs. 

Counties Manukau DHB was approached for comment. 

- by Steve Forbes, Local Democracy Reporting