University of Otago research highlighting high levels of
assault on public hospital nurses and other workers is a timely
''wake-up call'' requiring serious attention by district health
boards, Ian Powell, executive director of the Association of
Salaried Medical Specialists, says.
The research study, published yesterday, showed 38% of public
hospital staff had been physically assaulted in the previous
A survey, carried out as part of the study into patient
aggression experienced by staff in a public hospital,
included responses from 227 people and focused on healthcare
staff working at a single district health board.
Responses showed 93% of the surveyed healthcare workers had
experienced verbal anger at work in the previous year, and
physical aggression was experienced by 65%.
A total of 43% of nurses reported they had been physically
assaulted during the previous 12 months, compared with 14% of
It is understood the research was undertaken at Dunedin
Hospital, but researchers said the survey had been undertaken
on a confidential basis and, accordingly, they could not
identify the participating hospital.
The Otago researchers were Dr Nicola Swain, Dr Chris Gale and
Dr Rachel Greenwood.
Mr Powell said the study's assault figures were a ''wake-up
call'' and ''concerning'' and were significantly higher than
he would have expected.
It was ''unacceptable'' healthcare workers were being
assaulted while doing their jobs, he said.
DHB administrators and other health planners needed to take a
considered look at the figures to see how they could be
reduced, and the situation should not be swept under the
carpet, he said.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation associate industrial services
manager Glenda Alexander, of Dunedin, was pleased the study's
publication had highlighted an ''unacceptable'' situation
being faced by nurses.
Nurses for some years had been concerned about aggression and
assaults in the workplace, and some staff had felt the
situation needed considerably more attention and priority.
Some training and procedures were in place to help counter
the problems, but nurses should not have to accept assaults
as ''part of the job''.
Assaults and aggressive behaviour were clearly workplace
health and safety issues, and DHB administrators and other
health planners had to take that fully into account.
More strategies should be put in place to reduce aggression
and assaults, she said.
Dr Gale is a consultant psychiatrist at the Southern District
Health Board and a senior lecturer in the Otago University
department of psychological medicine.
Dr Swain and he were developing a proposed trial programme
that aimed to reduce aggression and assaults, including by
increasing communication skills.
The study was published in the New Zealand Medical
• The Ministry of Health was approached for comment about any
concerns arising from the figures and any possible solutions.
A spokeswoman said it was an ''operational'' matter for DHBs
and referred comment to the DHBs.