Violence against nurses, HCAs, ‘normalised’ and left invisible in Aotearoa health system

April 6, 2022

Normalised aggression against nurses and an unwieldy reporting system have hidden the true level of violence against district health board staff, an NZNO project has found.

Suzanne Rolls

Initial data obtained by NZNO project Address Violence and Aggression Against Nurses (AVAN) shows a gap between officially recorded violence and the real-life experiences of members.

NZNO project members Dana Hudson and Suzanne Rolls share the initial findings in an opinion piece in Kaitiaki, here.

In 2019 the NZNO Employment Survey showed that 31 per cent of members were suffering from multiple physical assaults annually. However, initial district health board (DHB) responses to official information requests by AVAN suggest only 5 to 8 per cent of staff had reported a single physical assault in 2019.

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Project lead, Rolls supplied an outline of the group’s findings – including reasons for the wide gap in member experiences and official data.

AVAD found two things were creating the under-reporting.

“The reportable event data systems are not designed for the user in mind. They can take 10 to 30 minutes to report an event electronically. The other issue is the ‘normalisation’, or ‘its part of the job to experience violence’.”

If no data or information is being actively reviewed by DHB executives … they will never put in strategies to eliminate the harm.

The central theme from the data was the lack of “visibility, regulation, treatment and attention to issues affecting NZNO members regarding workplace violence”, AVAD’s report said.

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“If no data or information is being actively reviewed by DHB executives or DHB board members, both are responsible officers under the Health and Safety At Work Act … they will never put in strategies to eliminate the harm.”

By the numbers

Information obtained from 17 of the 20 DHBs has revealed from 2017 to 2021, 17 DHBs reported 26,394 assaults (physical, sexual and verbal) on nurses, midwives and health care assistants.

However, only 1815 claims to ACC were lodged for assessment and treatment (this may indicate unofficial health treatment was provided and not reported to ACC or DHBs).

Over the same five year period, only 15 individual notifications to Worksafe were disclosed to NZNO.

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