Nurse shortage leads to more violence from patients, UBC study finds

Christine Sorensen has been a nurse for 30 years.

She could remember when she worked in the acute care facility for the first time. A patient there threw an entire dinner tray at her and threw knives across the room.

She attributed patients’ violence against nurses to their frustration with the shortage of health-care professionals, which is the focus of a recent study conducted by UBC School of Nursing professor Farinaz Havaei.

The research looked at how the workload on surgical nurses across the province leads to patients’ complaints and violence, the two factors that showed a strong correlation in the results. 

Nurses’ burnout leads to more violence from patients …

The B.C. Nurses Union funded the project. As the union’s president, Sorensen told CBC’s B.C. Today she is pleased with the findings because they validate what the nurses have been saying for a long time. 

“People go into hospitals when they’re vulnerable, expecting the best quality care … But nurses are struggling in this province to be able to provide the kind of care that patients need. There’s just not enough of them. So what happens is the public doesn’t know … how much the nurse is struggling under extremely heavy workloads.” 

Sorensen told sit-in host Bal Brach that patients sometimes receive a less compassionate kind of care because nurses are burned out, but the B.C. government allotted no additional money in the budget announced Tuesday for creating more nursing positions and educating more nurses.

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses Union, said the B.C. government should allocate more money to increase nursing positions. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

… and more medical errors for patients

Staffing levels are a very important predictor of nurses’ workload, according to Havaei’s study. But there are multiple factors that determine its extent.

“We looked at the number of times nurses were interrupted during completion of a task, like medication administration or even the number of admissions or discharges they had to do during a shift or how sick a patient is that requires nursing care or how dependent that patient is with respect to requiring assistance with regards to activities of daily living,” the professor said.

Havaei said that previous research studies showed that when nurses are overworked, patients will encounter more adverse events such as medication errors and infections. 

Sorensen said that violence should not be part of a nurse’s job and she appreciated a federal bill that was reintroduced on Thursday amending Canada’s Criminal Code to protect health-care workers from violence. 

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