Midnight machete attack at Wairarapa Hospital ED leaves man with severe head laceration and skull fracture, concerns over security

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Wairarapa Hospital in Masterton.

Warning: Graphic content

A machete-wielding man allegedly entered a Wairarapa emergency department, asked a receptionist where a patient was being treated then viciously attacked a man with the weapon.

It is understood the victim suffered a severe laceration to his head and a fractured skull following the machete attack, requiring emergency surgery.

An employee at the hospital, who the Herald has agreed not to name, said a man entered the ED about 11pm on Saturday.

He allegedly approached the receptionist and asked where his “wife” was being treated. When told, the man entered a cubicle, pulled a machete out from his hoodie and struck another man who was accompanying the female patient in the head.

“There was a lot of blood – as with all head wounds – [on the] walls, floor [and] hallway,” the employee said.

The female patient and a junior doctor allegedly disarmed the man after the attack. The assailant then stood with his hands behind his back and surrendered to police when they arrived.

A police spokesperson confirmed they responded to the Wairarapa Hospital ED about 11.40pm on Saturday after a person was assaulted.

“A 62-year-old man was taken into custody at the scene and is due to reappear in the Masterton District Court on charges of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.”

Police said the victim and assailant were known to each other.

The victim received moderate injuries and a weapon has been recovered. Inquiries into the incident remain ongoing.

The hospital staffer told the Herald staff and up to 12 patients in the ED at the time of the attack were at “huge risk”.

“The health system, particularly in acute areas, is frog in the pot stuff – we put up with it until something horrific happens. Unsafe staffing, increased patient demand, longer waiting times are constantly ignored.”

The staffer said the hospital was essentially forced into lockdown, with a senior nurse telling the receptionist to lock all doors around her office and call police.

“Some patients in cubicles were evacuated to the waiting room, some were not able to be because of [their] condition, location and timing.”

The staffer said employees were terrified to return to work on Sunday given an alleged lack of security and CCTV cameras at the hospital, saying staff had allegedly been pressing for improvement for years.

A spokesperson for the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) said the patient who was attacked was in a stable condition.

“Given that this is a police matter, we are unable to provide detail on the event.”

Health NZ Wairarapa group director of operations Kieran McCann said he appreciated the “isolated incident” would have been upsetting to witnesses.

“Following the incident, extra security was placed in the Emergency Department and staff are being supported.”

McCann said police were immediately notified through an alarm system as the event unfolded and responded quickly.

“We condemn all actions of violence against patients and staff. An investigation will take place into this incident to determine if there was anything which could have prevented it occurring.”

Questions about the supposed lack of security and CCTV cameras went unanswered.

Rising tide of violence at EDs

The attack comes after senior doctors last year called for security guards to be posted around the clock in every ED following an increase in abuse and assaults against medical staff.

It was one of several demands the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) made to political parties before the election to address a national crisis in EDs, causing an exodus of medical workers and putting patients at risk of serious harm.

The college cited data from Health New Zealand-Te Whatu Ora showing there were 7125 assaults against public health employees recorded between April 2021 and April 2023.

Doctors said EDs could be stressful and chaotic at the best of times because of the nature of acute medicine, but the growing number of patients in mental distress or under the influence of drugs and alcohol, severe staff shortages, and ballooning waiting times were creating increasingly unsafe and explosive environments.

In one incident cited by the college, a senior doctor was punched by a patient with mental health problems who had waited more than 12 hours to be seen.

At Gisborne Hospital in 2022, a nurse was hit in the face and knocked to the ground by a 28-year-old man, who was later arrested and charged with assault.

And on another occasion, a patient suffering severe mental distress threw faeces at emergency workers, the college said.

In December, the Government announced a $5.7 million boost to employ additional security staff in 32 hospitals through to late February.

Eight of the highest-risk emergency departments – in the four Auckland hospitals, along with Waikato, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin – each received an additional five security staff until the end of February.

A further 24 emergency departments near summer hotspots received between two and five additional security staff to help manage pressures over the summer holiday peak period.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti said the beefed-up security was to keep patients and hard-working doctors, nurses and other emergency department staff safe during a particularly busy time.

“The safety of the health workforce and patients has to be a priority. These staff will be ready to provide around-the-clock cover and the first people are on the ground already,” Reti said in an announcement on 22 December.

This story was first published in the NZ Herald.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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