Recent mental health nurse injuries ‘wake-up call’ for urgent action

Canterbury DHB needs to “get serious” about enforcing a zero-tolerance approach  to workplace violence if cases like the recent two assaults on nurses are to stop, says the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation say two recent assaults on mental health nurses at Hillmorton Hospital are more than a wake-up call to the Canterbury DHB and WorkSafe that urgent action is needed.

A DHB spokeswoman confirmed on Sunday that a nurse had been stabbed in the leg at an acute mental health unit at Hillmorton Hospital. The same unit where last a month a nurse had a cup of boiling water thrown over her. A report also emerged this week of an attack on a mental health nurse in Hawke’s Bay last month. Nurses this year have also been talking about the impact of P and synthetic cannabis use leading to growing violence against staff.

NZNO Organiser John Miller said it was “absolutely unacceptable” for anyone to feel scared to go to work because they could be stabbed, burned, beaten, punched or strangled.”Surely this is going to negatively affect the quality of the care they can give.

He said NZNO had been working for some time to support security, safety and good practice environments for it members at CDHB including being involved in working party recommendations to CDHB on employing security guards and urgently funding and pursuing improved practice environments to make inpatient settings safer.

“CDHB’s acute mental health services has been under pressure for some time with an increase in acute mental health presentations which require modern safer in-patients facilities to be developed and funded. This must be given high priority.”

It is understood that up to 50 Hillmorton mental health staff met with Canterbury DHB chief executive David Meates on Monday December 3

Meates said in a statement on the evening of December 3 that he had an open and honest conversation with mental health nursing staff at the meeting which reflected the “long and sustained pressure” that the service faced.

“Our mental health services are under significant pressure and this is impacting not only the care we provide our consumers but the safety of our staff,” he said. “The service is currently caring for twice the volume of patients than prior to the Canterbury earthquakes with the same number of beds and in inadequate facilities.”

He said of the key areas discussed included options for managing specific patient groups and strengthening some of the DHB’s processes. “We discussed the very real constraints of our current facilities and the impact on staff of feeling unsafe in their workplace.”

Meates said staff also presented options including increasing the security presence on the site. “It’s fundamental to the care of our consumers that our staff feel safe and supported to do their jobs,” he said. A further staff meeting was to be held on Friday and two more next week.

Miller said NZNO was also calling on WorkSafe to step up and take an urgent proactive approach to violence in the workplace for all health workers.

“Where is WorkSafe’s involvement in all this? We know WorkSafe has had serious assault reports from CDHB’s Specialist Mental Health Services, and there have been more than enough publicly reported incidents that should be triggering WorkSafe’s involvement.”

Meates also confirmed that he was to meet on December 6 with health and safety regulator WorkSafe at the agency’s request.

The latest incidents at Hillmorton follows a series of assaults in March on nurses working at Hillmorton’s Assessment, Treatment and Rehabilitation (AT&R) unit, which cares for people with intellectual disabilities and challenging behaviours. The unit is due to be redeveloped and modernised.


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