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BC nurses reported high levels of physical assault, emotional abuse

Nurses in British Columbia were more likely to report on-the-job abuse than their colleagues in other provinces, according to figures released by Statistics Canada this morning.

In B.C., 39 percent of nurses providing direct care in hospitals or long-term care facilities reported having been physically assaulted on the job during the previous 12 months, based on a survey conducted in 2005. That was well above the Canadian average of 34 percent and lower than only one province, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The number of B.C. nurses reporting emotional abuse from patients on the job was 53 percent, compared to a national average of 47 percent. The only province where a higher rate of nurses reported emotional abuse was Manitoba.

Health minister George Abbott was not immediately available for comment.

“To some degree it's the impact of cuts in services,” said New Democratic Party health critic Adrian Dix.

“If you go around B.C., and talk to nurses, they'll tell you for them this is the workplace issue,” he said. Other research has suggested B.C. nurses are subject to increasing levels of violence, he said. “This is definitely consistent with that and consistent with the consequences of the hallway medicine and crowded emergency rooms we've seen in recent years.”

Some 218,000 nurses were providing direct patient care in 2005 across Canada, according to a summary of the study, and 94 percent of them were women. The reporting of abuse was higher for male nurses, those with fewer years experience, licensed practical nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. Nurses working 12-hour shifts reported higher levels of abuse than did those working days.

Other “workplace climate” factors that contributed to higher levels of assault and emotional abuse included the “adequacy of staffing and resources”, the working relations between nurses and doctors, support from supervisors and support from co-workers.

“The odds that nurses would report physical assault or emotional abuse tended to be high among those who perceived staffing or resources to be the least sufficient, who perceived that relations with physicians were unfavourable, who had low supervisor support, or who had low support from colleagues,” said the StatsCan report.

The B.C. Nurses' Union is starting a campaign today with a launch event outside Burnaby Hospital to highlight concerns about the nursing shortage and advocate for better public health care and improved care for seniors.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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