Nearly half of nurses in an emergency department study reported being assaulted by a drunk patient.
The study on the effects of intoxicated patients surveyed 47 Wellington Regional Hospital ED staff, 13 of whom said they had been physically assaulted.
Twenty-one had suffered "verbal assaults" from drunk patients.
The study of nurses, doctors, ambulance officers, radiographers and receptionists found verbal and physical assaults often happened weekly.
A registrar told the researchers: "[These assaults are] usually pretty small, either spitting or the occasional thump on the arm when you're trying to assess them. Always verbal, with always profanities, obscenities coming at you, but you do develop a thick skin."
The researchers' paper in today's New Zealand Medical Journal cites earlier studies' findings that alcohol is a factor in 18 to 30 per cent of injury presentations to EDs in New Zealand.
The researchers found a mixed response to drunk patients at Wellington Hospital: some staff did not differentiate them from other patients; others saw their ailments as "self-inflicted and an unnecessary burden on the ED, and society in general".
One of the researchers, Dr Fiona Imlach Gunasekara, of Otago University at Wellington, said, "It appears that the ED workload is increased by intoxicated and difficult presentations on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Staff say big rugby matches and concerts are also a problem.
"... 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."