Assault study action call

Ian Powell
Ian Powell
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 year.

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 doctors.

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 Journal.

• 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.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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