SDHB not issuing helmets to mental health staff

The Southern District Health Board did not go ahead with a recommendation to issue helmets to mental health staff.

Yesterday, the Otago Daily Times reported the board issued helmets after two assaults in which nurses were punched in the head area.

The information was in a written response to an Official Information Act request.

However, mental health nursing director Heather Casey said the helmets were "a recommendation only''.

``[This] was discussed at a clinical level around one particular patient and a decision was made that helmets were not required as the acute situation had resolved.

``Helmets have therefore not been issued to mental health staff but if a situation arises where an acutely unwell patient does hit out at staff and does target the head then protective headwear could be ordered as part of [protective equipment] available,'' Ms Casey said.

In April, a nurse was concussed after being kicked and punched in the head and mid-body area. In another case, a nurse was punched in the head region by a patient.

In May, a staff member's arm was fractured after a patient barged them into a door.

Assaults in the mental health service have sharply increased this year.

In the first six months of 2017, 90 assaults occurred on mental health staff, compared with 84 in the whole of 2016.

In June, the nurses' union raised concern about assaults and staffing levels in Wakari Hospital's ward 9B.

Nurses' union organiser Celeste Crawford said the board is recruiting nurses from the United Kingdom and America to fill long-standing vacancies.

She had no issue with the board looking overseas if that was necessary, but was disappointed at the lack of an immediate response.

``As a long-term response . . . we're happy, but we're disappointed that there's no short-term options there that our members can turn to if numbers on the ward increase.''

Lower patient numbers recently had provided some relief, but numbers would increase again in due course, she said.

She said the board was also considering increasing security staffing at Wakari Hospital.

In his written response to the OIA, chief executive Chris Fleming said the board maintained close oversight of assaults.

``Any assault is unacceptable and is taken very seriously. A number of strategies are in place to support moving to a state where assaults are minimised and do not occur.

``These strategies include close monitoring of staff skill mixes and resources at any one time in inpatient areas, careful risk assessment and management plans for patients, sensory modulation techniques, ongoing education and training . . .''

The nurses union also complained about an increase in patient-on-patient assaults, but the board said those figures could not be released as it would take too long to collate the information. 

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