A nurse who suffered serious burns after a mental health patient threw boiling water over her has a message for health leaders: things need to change.
The woman could not be at a meeting with Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) chief executive David Meates at Hillmorton Hospital on Friday, but an impact statement was read on her behalf.
Hours before the meeting – the second in a week to discuss workplace violence – a patient assaulted a security guard. The guard, who was punched in the face, was taken to hospital for treatment. He reportedly suffered a broken nose and jaw.
The incident is the latest in a string of recent attacks at the mental health facility, including a stabbing, which have been described as a tipping point for staff. Meates said the assaults were sickening.
"The escalation and the nature of those has created a fair degree of fear for some of the staff," he said. The CDHB was listening to staff and taking immediate action where possible.
From Friday, an extra two security staff were stationed in the adult inpatient unit, Te Awakura, who could respond to emergency situations under the direction of nursing staff. It brought the total number of security positions across the hospital to five.
Meates said the increased number of security staff was an interim measure "while we build up a new alternative workforce" of specialised health care assistants trained in contemporary mental health practice.
The CDHB was working with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation to improve safety in Te Awakura. The Public Service Association (PSA) was also concerned, and called for a multi-union inquiry into assaults at the hospital.
"Morale is pretty low, there's a lot of distress, there's quite a lot of anger, there's frustration – people are waiting to see a response," PSA organiser Anthony Rimell said.
Meates said other measures to improve safety included reviewing crisis admission procedures, two new medication policies, and decommissioning the boiling water machines that had previously been accessible to patients.
"Our mental health service is also currently caring for twice the volume of patients than prior to the Canterbury earthquakes with the same number of beds and in inadequate facilities, and this is also putting pressure on our staff."
A new community acute inpatient unit with up to eight beds would relieve some of the pressure, Meates said. The new unit, which will be operated by an NGO, is expected to open by March.
A nurse who spoke to Stuff after the meeting said it had been positive and honest. Photographs of the serious burns sustained by the nurse who was attacked at Hillmorton last week were displayed in the room.
A statement read out on her behalf listed ways to improve staff safety. The other nurse, who spoke to Stuff on the condition of anonymity, said the message told the CDHB: "they need to step up their game".
"People are being hurt at work when they shouldn't be," the nurse said. However, she felt the meetings with Meates had been helpful, and there was a sense from nurses that their concerns were being heard.
Violence has been an ongoing issue at the Christchurch mental health hospital. Newly released ACC figures show mental health staff made nearly 200 claims for assault-related injuries in the last three years.
The recent spate of serious incidents has resulted in renewed scrutiny. Following an urgent meeting with the CDHB on Thursday, health and safety regulator WorkSafe said it would send investigators to Hillmorton before Christmas.
Meates said both organisations were committed to working together to address safety issues.
"I don't want to see another assault," he said. "One assault on any staff member is one too many."