District Health Boards are considering tougher security measures at hospitals with more reports of hospital staff being verbally and physically assaulted by patients and visitors.
Glenda Alexander from the NZ Nurses Organisation told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning the problem was serious and compromises staff in their workplace.
"It gets worse, particularly in the weekends and on nights when there's pubs open and people have access to alcohol."
She said a lot of incidents go unreported.
"The worst part of it is usually health professionals don't report it because they are pretty forgiving about people whose behaviour is affected by things going on around them."
The National Distribution Union (NDU) recently called for better protection for ambulance officers, including stab-proof vests and an end to single-crewing, after a survey found one in four staff were physically assaulted at least once a month.
But St John Ambulance yesterday refused the request for officers to be issued with stab-proof vests.
St John chief executive Jaimes Wood questioned the NDU's statistics, saying it had 850 full time officers and 2,500 volunteers, with 46 assaults reported in the last financial year.
Alexander said it was often the people that accompanied patients that caused problems.
"Quite often it's quite a crowd of people that front up."
Waikato DHB is considering cutting visiting hours and numbers to deal with the problem.
Alexander said that would help, as long as it was not too over-zealous.
"I think it's quite sad when you go into an emergency department now and see the kinds of protections that are there. It looks like a bank or something."
She said most health professionals had training in risk management but often assaults were unpredictable.
Canterbury District Health Board yesterday announced security staff at Christchurch and Hillmorton Hospitals would be supplied with stab-proof vests as part of their uniform.
There had been more than 500 assaults on hospital staff in the past year, The Press reported.