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Nurses Face Increasing Violence

Violence against nurses working in emergency departments around the country is on the increase, according to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

In the latest issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, the chair of the College of Emergency Nurses (NZNO) Angela Hailes says the increasing violence may be due to such factors as waiting times leading to frustration, increased alcohol and drug abuse, and an increase in the use of emergency departments for acute mental health episodes.

The violence emergency nurses had experienced from patients or their families and friends included verbal abuse and threats, equipment thrown across the room, witnessing violence toward children, sexual assault, and holes punched in walls.

Hailes said there was a culture of silence around violence.

“Many nurses just accept violence as part of our work or believe it is understandable a patient is violent because they are under stress. Many nurses are not prepared to report assaults to the police or to press charges of assault in situations were they have been subjected to physical aggression, she said.

But nurses had to document all incidents of violence to expose the frequency and extent of violence in emergency departments, Hailes said.

A long-time emergency department nurse in Hastings, Alan Thompson, says verbal abuse is part of his daily work. Each day I’m subjected to it. I’ve also been kicked, punched and spat at.”

Thompson believes much of the abuse is alcohol-fuelled. Long waiting times are also a factor.

“People feel that because they are coming into an emergency department they will be seen quickly. The name of the department instills a sense of urgency. And then some jerk in a uniform won’t let them in straight away, so they get angry.”

Thompson was shocked at the level of violence in emergency departments after working in medical and critical care units.

He says he doesn’t know how many times he’s been verbally threatened. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by drunk patients “My brother’s in the Mongrel Mob’.”

Thompson says he dismisses such threats at the time “but sometimes I’ve wondered if, when I walk the the carpark after work, I’ll have a reception committee. But I don’t dwell on it. You’d go crazy if you did.”

He sees a strange contradiction in the fact that year after year public opinion polls show nurses are the mostly highly respected professionals. “But in my work they double up as punch bags.”

Both Hailes and Thompson were speaking out in advance of International Nurses Day on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. The theme for the day this year is “Nurses always there for you: United against violence.”

Figures from the International Council of Nurses show nurses are three times more likely to experience violence that other professionals and because nursing is a female-dominated profession, individual nurses are frequently victims of violence in their personal life.

NZNO hosted a professional forum in Wellington yesterday (May 10), addressed by the Plunket Society’s general manager, clinical services Angela Baldwin who urged nurses to break the conspiracy of silence around child abuse and family violence.

A public health nurse from Huntly, Wendy Everingham, also addressed the forum on how nurses should care for women they suspect are victims of violence.

For further information please contact:

NZNO chief executive Geoff Annals, ph 04-494-6385 or 025-434-193
NZNO policy analyst, Eileen Brown, ph 04-494-6389


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