Abuse, assault rise on wards

21:30, Aug 18 2014

Assaults and verbal abuse of frontline health staff is rising in Marlborough but the problem could be worse, with incidents being under-reported by staff, a Blenheim registered nurse says.

Drink and drugs, anxiety about their medical conditions and patients who react badly to medication are causes of aggressive behaviour.

Verbal abuse and physical assaults on Marlborough health board staff have risen from 31 in 2012-2013 to 37 in 2013-2014.

The biggest increase was within Wairau Hospital's inpatient wards, from three to 10 reported incidents.

Abuse and attacks in the emergency department decreased from nine to two during the same reporting period.

A Blenheim registered nurse said he believed there were many more incidents not reported to the health board, particularly verbal assaults.


"I had an older client that punched me on the arm but in that context I didn't think it was an issue. Effectively that was assault.

"You have to be hard-skinned to be a nurse. Things are changing as the old school retires and younger nurses are speaking up on what's not appropriate behaviour.

"To younger nurses I don't downplay the risk involved but I do say you are more at risk [of assault] being in a pub full of drunk people."

In his 25-year nursing career he had reported being verbally abused and threatened.

Twelve years ago a client tried to assault him and had to be restrained by three police officers, resulting in a police officer being seriously injured.

"There is no excuse for a lot of people's behaviour," he said.

"I had a client's family member who was verbally abusive and wanted to know where I lived and if I had a family. I took it seriously fearing the effect on my family," he said.

He had learned from experience to keep himself safe and monitor the behaviour of patients.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation professional nursing adviser Suzanne Rolls said nurses working in primary care, hospitals and the community were vulnerable.

"Across the country, nurses are sworn at, spat at, kicked, punched, shoved and bitten," Rolls said.

Nurses had suffered cuts, bruises, concussion and broken bones, she said.

Patients under the influence of alcohol and drugs or suffering anxiety about their medical conditions contributed to aggressive behaviour.

Rolls said the remaining cases were patients who were "just like that" and refused to co-operate with medical staff.

"Nurses have a high workload and when they are working under pressure they can't communicate fully.

"With some patients, their anxiety is increased because there is no communication. Anxiety can turn to aggression and violence."

Rolls said nurses should not have to put up with intimidation, verbal and physical abuse.

"It shouldn't come with the job," she said.

A public communications campaign about what was acceptable behaviour in hospitals and the community should be rolled out, she said.

"Nurses going to work provide the very best in healthcare they can. They work in partnership with patients. Respect goes both ways," Rolls said.

Nobody at the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board was available for comment.

The Marlborough Express