Drunk patients abusive at ED

A growing number of drunk patients regularly physically and verbally abuse Wellington Hospital Emergency Department (ED) staff and have a negative impact on patients, a University of Otago study has found.

University of Otago Wellington researchers surveyed 47 staff at the emergency department face to face and by questionnaire for the study published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

The study found intoxicated patients were having a "significant negative impact on the workload and safety of staff in the ED", Dr Fiona Imlach Gunasekara, from the Department of Public Health, said.

"These impacts ranged from verbal abuse to physical assault, with nurses and ambulance officers being particularly affected.

"They're very common events, which many of these frontline staff appear to endure stoically as part of the job."

The study found verbal or physical assault happened as often as weekly or monthly.

Researchers believed the results would be probably be similar to other emergency departments nationwide.

Intoxicated patients increased workloads and waiting times, and in some cases decreased quality of care and created negative emotions in staff, the study found.

Workloads increased with intoxicated and difficult presentations on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights -- big rugby matches and concerts were also a problem, Dr Gunasekara said.

"The other key factor is that intoxicated patients often have a negative impact on other patients and most staff. They can have an intimidating effect which does nothing for the experience of injured sober people waiting in ED, and can also delay their treatment."

Many staff interviewed were critical of New Zealand's drinking culture and how it affected young people.

In general, they supported law reforms such as pricing changes and raising the purchase age.






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