Extra ED security not fixing issue: nurses

Extending extra security at Dunedin Hospital will not fix the problem of staff being assaulted at work, say nurses.

Southern senior doctors also question the extension of security measures, saying they seem rushed and are not targeting the right areas, which would be within the actual emergency department, rather than at the front door.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti announced late last week that additional security support would remain in place at eight of the country’s highest risk emergency departments (EDs), including in Dunedin.

The others were in Christchurch, Wellington, Waikato, Middlemore, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore.

The added security would stay in place while Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora formally reviewed an initial summer initiative which ran up until February 29, and which provided 200 additional security staff to 32 emergency departments.

The ongoing measures would "ensure frontline ED staff at key hospitals [could] remain supported" while the initiative was reviewed, Dr Reti said.

Health NZ data showed between 90 and 106 nurses were assaulted at Dunedin hospital last year — with the real number likely under-reported.

A monthly breakdown showed the number of assaults peaked in the middle of the year before falling again as the year drew to a close.

NZNO president and emergency department nurse Anne Daniels. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
NZNO president and emergency department nurse Anne Daniels. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
July, August and February recorded the highest numbers, at 19, 16 and 13 respectively.

New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation (NZNO) president and emergency department nurse Anne Daniels, of Dunedin, said the problem could not be fixed by security guards.

"The real issue is that of staffing, resourcing and funding.

"We shouldn’t actually need security guards — it’s because people have to wait far too long to receive their care, which puts everyone at risk."

Ms Daniels said there were chronic staff shortages across the board.

"The conditions are just not safe. We cannot provide safe care because we don’t have the required numbers of nurses with the appropriate skill and knowledge base to address the issue.

"Do security guards fix the problem? The answer is no."

Ms Daniels said the NZNO would push for an improved nurse-patient ratio legislation over the year, she said.

"We can no longer hope that memorandums of understanding can do the job, because they have failed us over and over again — legislation is the only way we can ensure this happens."

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists southern industrial officer Kris Smith said although she appreciated the extra security, the process offering it felt "hurried".

"There is a serious need for this type of support, but it needs to be developed in consultation with frontline nurses.

"What they provided was quite a front-door operation. Workers within the ED tell us the incidents are occurring in the actual workplace."

The assistance also needed to be permanent, rather than being used as a "political football", she said.

"It shouldn’t be put in and then pulled back constantly. There needs to be some proper evaluation about what is needed, when it’s needed and where it’s needed, as well as what form it should take.

"Health and safety is vital."

The organisation would talk to Health NZ about these concerns, she said.

Dr Reti has been approached for comment.