KeepHealthCare.ORG – Environmental factors at play in Hillmorton Hospital assaults, board member says
Last updated 19:45, June 1 2018
The Hillmorton campus has some of the oldest mental health facilities in the country.
A spate of assaults at Christchurch’s Hillmorton Hospital is indicative of high occupancy rates and buildings that are no longer fit for purpose, a district health board member says.
Jo Kane made the comment after reports of multiple assaults over the past week by patients against nurses in the hospital’s acute inpatient mental health unit, Te Awakura.
“If you put all these people together, [even when] you’ve got staff working really hard, eventually something is going to explode, and that’s kind of what’s happened,” she said.
A report to the Canterbury District Health Board’s (CDHB) Hospital Advisory Committee, which met on Thursday, said 85 per cent was the optimal occupancy for acute inpatient services.
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Te Awakura’s occupancy was 91 per cent in March, when the average number of people under care in the 64-bed facility was 70, and 94 per cent in April, when the average number was 73.
CDHB mental health services general manager Toni Gutschlag told the committee the service was under considerable pressure.
“I sound like a broken record but it really is a challenging place and there have been some serious assaults and staff have been hurt in the past week.”
Gutschlag also flagged a “worrying” trend in the number of assaults in the hospital’s secure Assessment, Treatment and Rehabilitation (AT&R) unit, part of the Intellectually Disabled Persons Health Service.
Figures provided to the committee showed 32 recorded assaults in March and June of last year falling to a low of three in December. However, since then recorded assaults have risen month on month to 18 in April.
The rise was attributed to additional space being created for one patient, reducing space for others in the unit.
Kane said staff at Hillmorton Hospital were under huge pressure and, unlike other health workers putting up with “crappy environments”, they did not have the hope that came with knowing they would be moving to better facilities.
“You take us through the buildings, and they’re still like they were 10 years ago and when I went through them 35 years ago. Same buildings,” she said at the committee meeting.
“It’s a failure in New Zealand to address what [are] almost second class citizens. I’ve seen prisoners treated better.”
A registered nurse in the hospital’s secure Te Whare Manaaki unit, part of Forensic Services, claimed six of his colleagues had been either punched in the face or kicked by the same patient in the past fortnight.
The man, who did not want to give his name, said nurses were operating in an environment where violence had become normalised and felt he was “being placed in harm’s way”.
“If the general population knew what went on they’d be aghast.
“There’s a background of constant violence, you get the one that makes the news, but actually this is ongoing.”
New Zealand Nurses Union organiser John Miller said violence at the hospital had “slowly ratcheted up”, but he was hopeful a new programme of work between the CDHB and the union would improve conditions.
“It’s a plan to review a number of things, because there’s an acknowledgment that things need to change in that particular part of the hospital [Te Awakura] around violence.
“We are feeling positive change will happen, and we genuinely believe the DHB are going to give a thorough review of Te Awakura.”
Gutschlag said the psychiatric inpatient environment could be “extremely challenging”.
All staff in inpatient services received training on how to engage with highly distressed patients. Each service also had specific plans and strategies for addressing issues, she said.
“We have a highly skilled and dedicated workforce, however incidents can and do still happen.”