You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Nurses at all hospitals, but particularly those who worked in emergency departments, were bearing the brunt of aggression and verbal abuse, Southern District Health Board director of nursing and midwifery Jane Wilson said.
"We know that people have anxiety and stress in their lives, even without Covid, and coming to hospital, and especially ED, just adds to that.
"Most people are incredibly understanding but there a minority who aren’t, who are upset and frustrated and who have taken it out on staff."
She was not aware of any staff who had been physically attacked, but some had been subjected to intense verbal abuse and aggression, Ms Wilson said.
"That has been increasing and is not fair on our staff, who are there to provide care for our community and keep them as safe as possible.
"We are doing our very best to maintain services and the very last thing we want is for staff to go down with Covid, so the more we can protect our patients and them the more services we can continue to provide."
The SDHB does not record instances of staff being verbally abused but does track physical assaults.
Anecdotally, staff have said in the past that abuse from patients or family was "part of the job", but nurses have confirmed that it seems to be getting worse in recent times.
The main flashpoints for angry hospital visitors have been limits on the number of people able to come in to hospital to support an ailing loved one.
Such restrictions have been in place before, notably during the Covid-19 lockdowns, but Ms Wilson said the amount and type of abuse being levelled at nurses now seemed much worse than in previous years of the pandemic.
People were also abusing security staff who needed to ask screening questions of people who wanted to gain access to the hospital.
While the process could cause delays and someone's case might seem urgent, the questions were for an important reason, she said.
"The whole point is to try and reduce the chance of a positive patient, staff member or visitor bringing the disease into the hospital, and the restrictions on visitors is purely to keep other patients in that department safe, and our staff too, during this outbreak.
"We want to remind people that these inconveniences are happening purely to keep people safe."