A nurse was punched in the chest and a doctor was racially abused by patients at Tauranga Hospital's emergency department - prompting a new hardline 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 emotionally 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 where they are helping others," he said.
Abuse of staff at Waikato Hospital - including patients spitting, pinching, punching and one person breaking a nurse's arm with a walking stick - sparked a similar campaign which saw security beefed up and gang patches banned.
Dr John Bonning, Waikato Hospital's emergency department clinical director and national chairman of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, believed abuse was becoming more common as hospitals grew busier.
"When it comes to the drunks and those on drugs that have made lifestyle choices and then abuse us, I absolutely believe we should start pursuing these people," he said.
Auckland District Health Board adult emergency department clinical director Dr Tim Parke said staff were dealing with verbal abuse on a regular basis. "Although all our staff are used to dealing with the frontline issues posed by disruptive and aggressive patients, they are frustrated by the amount of clinical time wasted and stress generated by mindless antisocial behaviour from a small minority."