2 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Hospital staff report increase in being spat on

5:47 pm on 2 April 2020

Health staff and other essential workers are increasingly reporting being spat at by angry members of the public while trying to work during the lockdown.

No caption

Photo: 123rf

Unions warn this is putting them at risk of contracting Covid-19 - and puts the rest of us at risk too.

Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said the union was getting more and more reports of nurses being spat at by people trying to infect them - or at least frighten them.

"It's just unacceptable but it seems to be a trend that we're seeing, unfortunately, more and more over the last few days."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

She spoke with a nurse this morning, who said she believed the patient who attacked her was acting out of fear because it was so out of character.

People needed to be patient and trust that nurses were doing their best, she said.

Kerri Nuku, kaiwhakahaere for the Nurses Organisation

Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"People are scared, people want attention here and now. People don't want to wait. If people don't feel you are addressing their concerns as a priority, they're not prepared to wait.

"They're trying to jump the line in some cases, I guess, but the fear and the anxiety are real."

Nurses who were spat at would have to fill in an incident form and get tested, she said, or could be stood down if there was a risk they could have been exposed to Covid-19.

Either outcome would further hamper the health system.

"This really shows the need for nurses to have enough PPE [personal protective equipment] on hand at all times."

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the senior doctors union, also had reports of people spitting at staff and chief executive Sarah Dalton was worried such incidents could put pressure on PPE supplies.

"People who are just meeting and greeting and directing people through hospitals, they shouldn't need PPE gear," she said.

"Obviously if people are going to be physical in various ways, that's going to divert safety equipment from where it's really needed."

It was already an anxious time for hospital staff - without the added stress of being attacked by those people they were trying to help, she said.

"Our members are really terrified, they're really putting themselves out there, so they really don't need this.

"But also, if you're a security guard, you're probably not on very good money and you're being asked to put yourself out there on the front line right at the door of the hospital.

"That's a big ask."

Some security guards told RNZ that spitting incidents had increased since the lockdown at hospitals and supermarkets in particular, where they were having to ask people to wait or turning them away.

The Security Association, which represents the industry, was not aware of any particular incidents but said there was huge pressure on companies with increased demand due to Covid-19.

Chief executive Gary Morrison said there were 500 vacancies nationwide.

"We'd expect new people not to be put into frontline roles, they'd be in very much in support functions, certainly not high risk situations, put it that way."

Morrison said he expected employers to give new security guards all the PPE and support they needed to safely do their job - keeping the public safe.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs