Patrols help curb drunken hospital abuse

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Police are patrolling Christchurch Hospital's emergency department (ED) to prevent drunken patients abusing and assaulting medical staff.

The patrols on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are a bid to combat abuse from drunken patients taken to the emergency department after fights or accidents.

The hospital estimates there is one serious incident of verbal abuse and resistance a week and about three assaults on medical staff a year.

Drunken abuse was a daily occurrence, but physical assault was rare, Christchurch emergency physician Dr Scott Pearson said.

"You get people who are intoxicated and have got into a bit of a scuffle and they can get a bit rowdy and cause everyone a bit of angst," he said.

"The older people waiting for treatment get upset and it makes the whole atmosphere unpleasant.


"You only need a few people for that to happen.

"Assault is a rare occurrence, but we get a lot of verbal abuse as a daily occurrence.

"It usually happens when patients are under the influence of alcohol. If we could get rid of alcohol, my life would be a lot easier," Pearson said.

Pearson welcomed the foot patrols as a way to keep emergency staff safe.

Canterbury police district commander Superintendent Dave Cliff said the patrols acted as a strong deterrent against alcohol-fuelled abuse in the emergency department.

"Dog-handlers do a walk-through to show a police presence and calm things down," he said.

"You often find that the drunken individual who has fallen over in the street can get into the ED and become abusive, and that upsets the staff."

District operations commander Inspector Craig McKay, who is in charge of the patrols, said dog-handlers would visit the hospital during down-time at least once a night at weekends.

"Alcohol is a significant aggravator of crime," he said.

"It is quite an eye-opener.

"On a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night you get a lot of people coming into our care who are affected by alcohol, and that flows through to ED.

"If police officers are out there being seen, it is a huge deterrent."

McKay said the patrols had had "fantastic feedback" from hospital staff.

Police dog-handlers were chosen as they had spare capacity on some nights to patrol the emergency department.

The dogs were not allowed into the hospital and remained in the police vehicle.

The Press