Staff on front line at hospital's Te Puna Waiora
Staff are the victims of more than half of recorded assaults at Taranaki Base Hospital's mental health unit.
According to figures released to the Taranaki Daily News under the Official Information Act, 39 assaults by patients were officially recorded at the unit, known as Te Puna Waiora, in 2013 with 26 of those committed against staff members.
This year, to the end of June, 39 assaults have already been recorded, with 30 against staff. First aid and follow-up visits to the GP were required in some of the cases.
And although several were left bruised as a result, it was the ongoing psychological impact the abuse had on staff which concerns those involved.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation Taranaki organiser Chrissy Darth said she was aware of assaults on staff and their impact. "It absolutely has an emotional toll."
She said although the environment at the unit was "volatile" staff still had the right to feel safe at work. "Nurses don't go to work to be bashed."
She said her organisation now worked closely with the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) to manage the issues and changes introduced in recent years had alleviated the problem to some extent.
Darth said changes to the admission and patient management processes had worked well and any new problems identified by staff were quickly addressed.
These changes had been matched by an increased confidence in staff, she said.
"The morale is getting better," Darth said.
Te Puna Waiora is a 23-bed facility which provides care for people assessed as being seriously mentally unwell. Some of the people who stay in the unit are subject to compulsory care under the Mental Health Act.
TDHB's quality and risk manager Anne Kemp said the number of assaults committed in the unit were an "issue of great concern" and proactive steps were in place to minimise them".
Included as part of this approach are regular reviews of procedures and incidents as well as ongoing staff training.
Kemp said the types of assaults recorded included staff, and to some extent other patients, being pushed, spat at, slapped, punched, kicked or bitten. She said verbal abuse was another issue staff also had to contend with.
Help was available for staff following any incidents, including counselling, access to occupational health follow-up and support if they wished to lay charges with police, Kemp said.
Taranaki's district inspector for mental health Murray Cochrane said it did not surprise him that the staff were victims of assaults more frequently than other patients.
"It is the staff who are dealing with the crisis situations which may develop."
Taranaki Daily News