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Mental Health Nurses Beyond Crisis Point

Nurses are saying some areas of mental health are beyond crisis point and many mental health nurses are close to quitting from the relentless pressure of staff shortages and daily assaults by patients.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) Mental Health Section chairperson Helen Garrick says while mental health nurses are committed to protecting the public by ensuring that standards of service are of the highest order, the current system makes this impossible.

"It is with regret that we have to express this dissatisfaction and frustration with the current standards as we’re concerned for the patients who receive our care."

Ms Garrick, herself a mental health nurse, said the situation reported recently in the media at Wakari Hospital in Dunedin was becoming the norm rather than an exception.

"Bed numbers are being cut at Wakari Hospital’s mental health ward 9A. It has only 50 percent of the staff it needs to operate at full capacity, and this is unacceptable.

"Another absolute crisis is taking place at Southland Hospital where working double shifts is common and community nurses have come in to fill the gaps. This means they cannot see to those in immediate need in their communities."

Other regions were also struggling with a large number of vacancies which in turn leads to staff having to cover more shifts and this leads to burn out.

"We would welcome zero fees by the Government for nursing students as one of the solutions."

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Ms Garrick said another area of concern among mental health nurses was the number of assaults that they experienced.

"People need to realise that working in mental health takes advanced communication skills such as de-escalation and assessment of the cues that are occurring at the time."

She said mental health nurses are being assaulted by patients every day across Aotearoa. These range from having water or milk thrown at them to more serious infractions where nurses have been hit so badly, they’ve lost consciousness or being badly scalded with hot liquids.

Some of these assaults result in nurses being retired on medical grounds while others resign in fear.

"I know of a nurse in Auckland who was punched in the head until she passed out. All she did was to ask the patient not to vape which was in line with the no vaping policy.

"This happened five months ago, and the nurse has not been back to work since due to her injuries."

Dozens of these cases have been reported to police but nothing has been done, she said.

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