Nurse scalded by pa­tient had es­cape route blocked

Burned staffer calls for in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into safety con­cerns as at­tacks mount

Weekend Herald - - News - Vaimoana Ta­paleao

As scald­ing hot wa­ter seared through her skin after be­ing thrown on her, a nurse was forced to wait as a pa­tient blocked the only way out.

Now she is call­ing for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the safety of the Hill­mor­ton Hos­pi­tal fa­cil­i­ties.

The nurse, who works at the adult men­tal-health fa­cil­ity in Christchurch, suf­fered sec­ond-de­gree burns to the up­per left side of her chest and arm when a fe­male pa­tient poured boil­ing wa­ter on her in a nurses’ sta­tion room. Charges are un­likely to be laid and the pa­tient re­mains at Hill­mor­ton.

The in­ci­dent hap­pened about two weeks ago at the hos­pi­tal, which has been plagued with in­ci­dents in­volv­ing nurses be­ing in­jured.

Last Sun­day, an­other nurse was stabbed, ap­par­ently with what is un­der­stood to have been sur­gi­cal scis­sors.

Yes­ter­day, po­lice were called to the unit after a staff mem­ber was as­saulted and needed hos­pi­tal treat­ment. Po­lice said the per­son was in­jured after be­ing punched.

Speak­ing to the Week­end Her­ald, the burned nurse de­scribed the ter­ri­fy­ing wait she had to en­dure im­me­di­ately after the in­ci­dent.

“I was de­layed in get­ting treat­ment for my burns be­cause there is only one door in the nurses’ sta­tion,” she said. “After the pa­tient had thrown the boil­ing wa­ter on me, she blocked the door­way.

“There was no way for me to leave to get help or first aid un­til the nurs­ing staff came and moved the pa­tient.”

The lack of ex­its had been an on­go­ing con­cern for nurses, she said, and they had re­quested an­other door in the nurses’ sta­tion. They were told it would be too ex­pen­sive, she said.

“A year ago, a pa­tient pushed a couch in front of the door, block­ing it, then set it on fire.

“The nurse had no es­cape. She wasn’t hurt be­cause our nurs­ing team are fan­tas­tic. We have to be.”

Can­ter­bury Dis­trict Health Board chief ex­ec­u­tive David Meates was “shocked to see the ex­tent of the in­juries” caused by the boil­ing wa­ter and as­sured the Week­end Her­ald a re­view was be­ing car­ried out and changes had al­ready been made.

“A re­design to al­low emer­gency egress has been iden­ti­fied as ur­gently re­quired. Op­tions for a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion are yet to be scoped, so we don’t yet know how fea­si­ble it is to add an ex­tra door. The is­sue is not one of cost but whether it can be done from a prac­ti­cal point of view,” he said.

The nurse said she was the sec­ond per­son to suf­fer burns from hav­ing boil­ing wa­ter thrown at them by a pa­tient.

As a re­sult of the first in­ci­dent, the tem­per­a­ture on a hot wa­ter Zip ma­chine was changed in that par­tic­u­lar ward, but not in the oth­ers, she said.

“They knew there was a se­ri­ous risk and haz­ard to both staff and pa­tients but failed to cor­rect it.

“Very few other hos­pi­tals al­low zips on the wards for this rea­son.”

Since the lat­est boil­ing wa­ter at­tack the Zip ma­chines had been dis­abled, Meates said.

Speak­ing up about pa­tient-on­nurse vi­o­lence was not about mak­ing it out to be a di­vi­sive pa­tients ver­sus nurses is­sue, the nurse said. In­stead, nurses wanted the pub­lic to know what was hap­pen­ing in the men­tal­health sys­tem and for those in man­age­ment po­si­tions to hear their calls for bet­ter safety mea­sures in wards.

She said the nurses dealt with vi­o­lence on a daily ba­sis as well as oc­ca­sion­ally with pa­tients who had bought drugs from other pa­tients.

They also had to deal with hav­ing to face a pa­tient who had ear­lier as­saulted them, been charged by po­lice, then sent back to Hill­mor­ton.

In last week’s stab­bing case, the 42-year-old charged with in­tent to in­jure has since been re­manded back to the fa­cil­ity.

“I be­lieve it is un­ac­cept­able to use hos­pi­tals as a place to leave re­mand pris­on­ers,” the nurse said.

Meates said high de­mand made it dif­fi­cult to place pa­tients back in dif­fer­ent ar­eas after an as­sault.

“Wher­ever pos­si­ble a pa­tient will be brought back to a dif­fer­ent part of the unit, or a dif­fer­ent ser­vice if ap­pro­pri­ate, or we can try to find an al­ter­na­tive place for the staff mem­ber to work, but this isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble,” he said.

Among the nurse’s rec­om­men­da­tions were to bring in ded­i­cated se­cu­rity staff on wards.

“It is very hard to build a ther­a­peu­tic and heal­ing re­la­tion­ship with pa­tients when days be­fore you may have had to re­strain them due to a drug-in­duced psy­chotic event where they are hurt­ing them­selves and other pa­tients.

“Pa­tient-on-pa­tient vi­o­lence is an al­most daily oc­cur­rence on the wards and some­times nurses feel more like prison guards than the car­ing and con­cerned nurses we are.”

She said se­cu­rity guards were posted on wards in Aus­tralia so that dan­ger­ous be­hav­iour was dealt with swiftly and nurses could fo­cus on do­ing their job.

As of yes­ter­day, two ex­tra se­cu­rity staff would be on duty in the acute in­pa­tient unit around the clock, Meates said.

The at­tacks come as the Re­port of the Govern­ment In­quiry into Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion was re­leased this week. One of its rec­om­men­da­tions was the need to im­ple­ment a na­tional sui­cide pre­ven­tion strat­egy.

This nurse suf­fered sec­ond-de­gree burns when a pa­tient poured boil­ing wa­ter on her.

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