3 Apr 2024

'Integrated' security touted to stop attacks at hospital emergency departments

9:13 am on 3 April 2024
Wairarapa Hospital

A 62-year-old man is facing a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Photo: Supplied / Google Maps

Medical leaders are calling for integrated security in EDs after a machete attack at a hospital.

"It's really sad that it's come to this," Australasian College for Emergency Medicine New Zealand chair Dr Kate Allan told Morning Report.

A 62-year-old man was taken into custody at the scene and is now facing a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The victim and the offender were known to each other, and the victim received moderate injuries, police said.

Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora said "security staff were present at ED at the time of the incident, and were able to attend within seconds".

But Allan said her understanding was that security was for the hospital, and not based within the emergency department.

"And this is the difficulty, all our hospitals have security on site, but what we are saying is we need specific security that's integrated and working within the emergency department that's solely responsible for the emergency department rather than other issues happening around the hospital."

Integrated security would mean a team member in the emergency department who was "trained to work in the health system but also in the nuanced environment of an emergency department, which can be very intense", she said.

She said EDs often had people who were "vulnerable, scared, frustrated with the system".

EDs were "an open environment so typically people can just walk in", Allan said.

"The entrance is open to the public, we're there to look after people."

As part of its 100-day plan, the government paid for 200 extra guards across some hospitals over the summer, but that finished in February.

However Health NZ was able to reallocate funding until 1 July 2024, which meant increased security at eight "hotspot" EDs and surge security as needed - such as was now in place at Wairarapa Hospital.

Allan said the extra security staff over the summer "made a difference to some hospitals".

Health Minister Shane Reti indicated the Budget may include further funding for security at hospitals.

But he defended the decision not to extend the extra security for Wairarapa beyond February.

"I know there's some initial discussions around CCTV and how far the de-escalation process had been with staff. These are the things we're sort of looking at now. We will wait for that formal report."

Allan was hopeful that Reti recognised that "staff on the floor need to be safe in their place of work".

Health workers' union E tū director Mat Danaher said emergency departments may need extra security at certain times of the day or on particular days of the week.

"But we need to be realistic that violence can happen anywhere that patients or visitors can go within a hospital," Danaher said.

Labour criticised the government for scaling back security at emergency departments.

It was "highly tokenistic" of the government to boost security for the summer and then scale it back, Labour health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

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