Hospital staff report increase in being spat on

In 2018, there were 87 breaches, more than twice those in the previous year and three times as...
Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said the union was getting more and more reports of nurses being spat at by people trying to infect them - or at least frighten them. Photo: Getty Images
Health staff and other essential workers are increasingly reporting being spat at by angry members of the public while trying to work during the lockdown.

Unions warn this is putting them at risk of contracting Covid-19 - and puts the rest of us at risk too.

Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said the union was getting more and more reports of nurses being spat at by people trying to infect them - or at least frighten them.

"It's just unacceptable but it seems to be a trend that we're seeing, unfortunately, more and more over the last few days."

She spoke with a nurse this morning, who said she believed the patient who attacked her was acting out of fear because it was so out of character.

People needed to be patient and trust that nurses were doing their best, she said.

"People are scared, people want attention here and now. People don't want to wait. If people don't feel you are addressing their concerns as a priority, they're not prepared to wait.

"They're trying to jump the line in some cases, I guess, but the fear and the anxiety are real."

Nurses who were spat at would have to fill in an incident form and get tested, she said, or could be stood down if there was a risk they could have been exposed to Covid-19.

Either outcome would further hamper the health system.

"This really shows the need for nurses to have enough PPE [personal protective equipment] on hand at all times."

Despite reports off staff being spat on in other centres in New Zealand, there had been no incidents of this nature reported in the South, the Southern District Health Board said.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the senior doctors union, also had reports of people spitting at staff and chief executive Sarah Dalton was worried such incidents could put pressure on PPE supplies.

"People who are just meeting and greeting and directing people through hospitals, they shouldn't need PPE gear," she said.

"Obviously if people are going to be physical in various ways, that's going to divert safety equipment from where it's really needed."

It was already an anxious time for hospital staff - without the added stress of being attacked by those people they were trying to help, she said.

"Our members are really terrified, they're really putting themselves out there, so they really don't need this.

"But also, if you're a security guard, you're probably not on very good money and you're being asked to put yourself out there on the front line right at the door of the hospital.

"That's a big ask."

Some security guards told RNZ that spitting incidents had increased since the lockdown at hospitals and supermarkets in particular, where they were having to ask people to wait or turning them away.

The Security Association, which represents the industry, was not aware of any particular incidents but said there was huge pressure on companies with increased demand due to Covid-19.

Chief executive Gary Morrison said there were 500 vacancies nationwide.

"We'd expect new people not to be put into frontline roles, they'd be in very much in support functions, certainly not high risk situations, put it that way."

Morrison said he expected employers to give new security guards all the PPE and support they needed to safely do their job - keeping the public safe.


I'm usually liberal on matters relating to offenders but there is no excuse for this at a time like this. People may be frightened and frustrated but making the lives of health workers even more like hell isn't acceptable. It should be made known that an attack of this sort will result in instant detention with charges to follow for the offender.

For heavens sake, some people are just ferral, pure and simple, ferral.
Of all the people to abuse, the ones that are there for us when we need them the most.
Society is sick, really sick, beyond any virus........
People never used to be like this, so we need to ask why is this happening, and turn things around, urgently, because if we don't, the future looks pretty ugly.

No excuse at all for spitting on people at anytime let alone now. That is assault with intent. Jail them

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