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A survey showing 38% of public hospital staff had been assaulted in the previous year highlights matters requiring ''urgent attention'', University of Otago researchers say.
The survey, carried out as part of a 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, physical aggression was experienced by 65%, and 38% had experienced a physical assault during that period.
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.
Working in a healthcare setting was ''a known risk factor for violence'' internationally, the study said.
But before the University of Otago study, little was known about aggression experienced by healthcare workers at a New Zealand district health board.
Dr Nicola Swain, a senior lecturer in the Otago department of psychological medicine and the study's first author, said it showed a higher level of physical assault on healthcare staff in this country (38%), than in a study of healthcare workers at a UK general hospital (27%).
Incidents involving aggression were not confined to alcohol-related issues involving emergency departments, she said.
''It's concerning ... They [staff] have the right to a safe workplace,'' she said in an interview.
''I'd like to achieve greater understanding for healthcare workers, and the great job that they do,'' she said.
The study noted it was ''possible to improve training to reduce aggression'', and future research was envisaged which could identify if ''communication skill interventions'' could help.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation associate industrial services manager Glenda Alexander, of Dunedin, said assaults on nurses were always a concern, and could have wide-ranging effects on them and their family life.
The study is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.
Fellow authors were Otago researchers Dr Chris Gale and Dr Rachel Greenwood.