Staff at Christchurch's Hillmorton Hospital taking time off due to attacks

Staff at Christchurch mental health facility Hillmorton Hospital are being forced to take time off due to attacks from patients, figures released to Newshub reveal.

In five years, staff have taken more than 300 months of leave associated with around 140 ACC claims.

John Miller from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) told Newshub people's lives and families are affected.

"Any time off work after an assault would suggest that any assault has been quite serious so I think we need to remember, and the CDHB needs to remember, these are people not just numbers."

Miller said staff are being stung in the pocket too when they're forced out of work.

"We believe that if people have been assaulted at work then that shouldn't come out of any sick leave entitlement, that 20 percent on top of their 80 percent ACC should just be paid by the DHB."

He said assaults appear to have decreased over the last two years, but it's still an issue for staff going into work without much protection.

"Our members can't go into the wards with helmets on and flak jackets, they have themselves as their protection in their practice."

Canterbury DHB manager of mental health services Toni Gutschlag agreed that the situation is unacceptable.

"It's very distressing to know that people have come to work and they have been harmed and we have been doing everything we can to turn the situation around. It's complex."

She said the situation has improved, incidents are declining, and additional security is working well. On top of that, a process has begun to address the substandard inpatient facilities, but it may take a while.

"It's a complex and lengthy process to go through the different stages of approval that are required for a significant build like would be required for a new acute inpatient service, for example."

But in the meantime it's a challenging situation.

"We are not a service that's able to shut the front door, we continue to be available for our community and demand for our services has continued to grow at an extraordinary rate."

Canterbury DHB’s Specialist Mental Health Services department is currently short by approximately 60 FTE nurses, Gutschlag said.