Nurse attacked at Tauranga Hospital


A nurse was punched in the chest and a doctor was racially abused by patients at Tauranga Hospital's emergency department - prompting a new hard line stance backed by the Government.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board is pursuing charges against the patient who hit the nurse overnight on Saturday, leaving her distressed.

On the same night, patients verbally abused staff in four separate cases, including racial slurs hurled at Dr Lynn Williams, a British-trained senior doctor.

Last night, she said the abuse was "completely unacceptable and the perpetrators should be held to account for their actions".

Factors such as alcohol, drugs and domestic violence were noted in the patients who made the attacks.

The department's clinical nurse manager, Marama Tauranga, said police and security staff had to be called in to deal with the patients.

Ms Tauranga said that while the nurse did not receive any lingering injuries from being punched, "it's more the emotional stuff that goes with being verbally abused and hit when you're actually trying to help somebody".

The incidents, which come as emergency departments across the country report a rise in verbal abuse from patients, have led the health board to toughen up on prosecuting those who abuse staff.

"There has been a zero tolerance policy but I think we haven't been as active as we should in following that through," department clinical director Dr Derek Sage said.

He said the health board had occasionally prosecuted abusive patients, served trespass orders restricting them to urgent visits or sent them letters to "let them know we are pissed off".

But it had never looked at a blanket approach to prosecutions.

"I think after this weekend, my tolerance for putting up with behaviour from these people has reached a level in that we will actively in future have a policy of going after and prosecuting these people," Dr Sage said.

"I can't have my staff treated this way."

He believed the problem was on the rise but could not be blamed solely on drugs and alcohol.

"I think you are seeing a little bit of a tolerance-creep in society so that people get away with behaviour to a later point - and when it comes to the ED, it starts to be not as far off a social norm as it would have been 10 years ago."

The stance has been welcomed by Health Minister Tony Ryall, who described the abuse as "absolutely appalling". "I am concerned whenever I hear that hospital staff have been abused or assaulted in these roles," he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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