John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for APNZ.

Assault rate of health workers rises rapidly

Mental health unit attacks a big factor

Mental health services made up 87 per cent of these reported physical assaults.. Photo / Thinkstock
Mental health services made up 87 per cent of these reported physical assaults.. Photo / Thinkstock

Assaults on nurses and health workers have jumped by more than a third in three years. Information obtained by the Herald on Sunday showed attacks on district health board staff and contractors shot up from 2547 two years ago to 3509 last year.

Post-quake Canterbury has had the biggest surge in attacks. Physical assaults on staff have nearly doubled since the Christchurch earthquakes two years ago, from 722 to 1293. Mental health services made up 87 per cent of these reported physical assaults.

"The majority of incidents experienced by our people do not require first aid or a doctor," Canterbury health board senior corporate solicitor Greg Brogden said.

The highest number of attacks at most health boards were in mental health units. At a few health boards, however, the elderly - particularly those with dementia - were responsible for more attacks than mental health patients.

A minority of health boards said the assault statistics included instances of verbal abuse.

In Waitemata, the highest-populated health district, physical attacks rose by 12 per cent last year but were less common than in 2010.

These included six physical attacks against dental staff and 163 acts of physical violence at the Waitemata forensics department over the past three years.

In Wanganui an employee was given 2 hours' ACC leave after being kicked and punched in the face at the Te Awhina mental health unit.

Southern District Health Board recorded verbal abuse and offensive behaviour such as spitting as assaults.

The board said some mental health patients did not have "language to describe what is happening to them and are sometimes deaf and/or blind and severely intellectually disabled.

"The forensic service admit patients because of their mental illness. The combination of mental illness, addictions and criminal behaviours are a challenge to manage in all environments."

- Herald on Sunday

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