The heavy workload faced by B.C. nurses put them at higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their patients, according to new research from the University of B.C.
The study, published in the journal Nursing Open and funded by the B.C. Nurses Union, “validates” anecdotal evidence from nurses on the front lines of the health care system, BCNU president Christine Sorensen said Thursday.
“Nurses are working in a pressure cooker,” she said. “That pressure in the system transfers to patients … which can sometimes lead them to take it out on the first person who helps them.”
According to the union, 26 nurses each month suffer a violent injury at work, accounting for 31 per cent of all injuries from acts of violence in B.C.
Nurses report being verbally assaulted, which includes yelling, swearing and racial slurs, as well as physical abuse, which ranges from throwing food or bed pans to sexual and physical assault.
In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.
The UBC study found complaints from patients or their families are sometimes a precursor to emotional or physical violence.
Complaints can be part of the “spiral of aggression” that eventually leads to violence, said study author Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor of nursing at UBC.
The complaints often stem from workload issues, which affect the quality of patient care. The study looked at several factors to determine workload, including common measures such as staffing and patient load, as well as the number of interruptions, number of admissions and how sick or how much assistance patients required.
“The evidence shows that when nurses are overworked, they get more complaints. If they don’t have time to deal with the complaints, the situation can escalate,” said Havaei.
Nurses said they received an average of one complaint per month and experienced emotional or physical abuse from patients or their families at about the same frequency.
“We need to address the root cause of the problem, which is the heavy workload,” said Havaei, adding that a system to better track patient complaints would only be a “bandaid approach” to preventing violence.
Sorensen called on the provincial government to provide additional nurses to provide better patient care and help with workload, as well as protection safety officers to ensure safety.
In December, the provincial government announced a new agency to tackle workplace safety for health care workers, earmarking $8.5 million over the next three years.
The province’s health-sector bargaining associations, health employers and the provincial government will lead the new non-profit organization, which was born out of a working group of the same stakeholders.
In 2018, injury claim costs from health care workers totalled more than $107 million, an increase of about $11 million from the previous year, according to the province. It is expected the new agency will be operational by late spring.
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