Amputee terrified after sexual harassment on Hutt Hospital ward

Linda Worrall's hospital stay turned into a nightmare.

An Upper Hutt woman is calling for hospital patients to be kept safe after another patient kept invading her space, often sexually.

"I wouldn't want anyone else to go through what I did, and I can't help thinking there's probably people out there now that are going through something like that," Linda Worrall told 1News.

The 56-year-old was admitted to Hutt Hospital's Older Persons Rehabilitation Service (OPRS) ward in late January to recover from a leg amputation after being infected with necrotising fasciitis, a bacterial infection that attacks tissue under the skin.

It began with a small cut to her ankle last September, which Worrall - who has a blood circulation disorder known as peripheral vascular disease - said developed into a "massive rotting sore… that smelled" after she claims nurses and her GP botched the treatment and diagnosis.

A few days into her stay a patient on the ward entered her room, pulled back the curtains surrounding her bed and made lewd comments - apparently believing she was his ex-girlfriend.

"Every day, sometimes more than five times a day, this gentleman would come into the room, yank the curtains back when I was being washed and just stare... some of the nurses would just casually go, 'Oh shush, off you go mate,' whilst I'm screaming, 'Get him out of here!'

"I understand he has a right to recovery… but when you are behaving so antisocially, aggressively, sexually inappropriate, that's not a place you need to be around a whole bunch of elderly and middle-aged women where you're just prey."

Another time the man opened Worrall's cupboard, threw her underwear on the floor, pulled documents out of her bag, said she "wanted him" and accused her of theft. And on separate occasions, the man entered Worrall's room at night and touched her arm, her upper thigh twice and her lower leg.

"I couldn't get out of bed and run, I couldn't roll over, that didn't help… I think that was my worst fear, that he would get to where he wanted to touch me.

"I can't even describe it - I was terrified."

Te Whatu Ora Capital, Coast & Hutt Valley (CCHV) declined an interview, saying it wasn't appropriate with the case being investigated by the Health and Disability Commissioner.

Provider services director Joy Farley said in a statement Worrall had a call bell to request help from nurses. Worrall said the bell was often unplugged.

"One nurse said it was because they were busy, and it would have been unplugged by accident and they forgot to plug it back in, others said that I might have pulled it out of the wall. It was tied around the bed so I don't know how it happened."

She said sometimes other patients in her room would push their buttons to get help for her.

Te Whatu Ora CCHV said actions were taken in line with the hospital's policies in dealing with high-risk behaviour and delirium.

"They apologised, they knew what was going on, they said he was difficult to stop but they'd do their best to put things in place," Worrall said.

Farley said an additional staff member was allocated to continually monitor the confused patient, and when they weren't available, ward staff made frequent checks.

'I just didn't feel safe'

Te Whatu Ora CCHV said the next step was contracting external security to keep a continual watch on the confused patient.

A family member of Worrall's said the security guard left on the first day before nightfall, so he made a formal complaint.

Security didn't deter the patient from entering Worrall's room. On one occasion he told her he was on medication that made his "thing jingle and tingle", and that he wanted to press it against her, she said.

When she yelled at him to leave, the security guard asked her to keep quiet - and told her it was his job to stop the patient leaving the ward, but after Worrall explained the situation, he said he would stop the patient entering her room.

"But he still kept coming in, no matter what they did, he still kept coming in."

The male patient's family said perhaps Worrall had done something to encourage him, according to a nurse, Worrall claimed.

"Of all the things I've heard that were shitty in my life, that was one of them," she said.

Worrall was discharged at her request on February 11.

Linda Worrall speaks to 1News reporter Kate Nicol-Williams.

"I couldn't recover, I just didn't feel safe, I didn't eat much. I probably lost about 10 kilos while I was there, and I couldn't sleep so I made the call to come home."

Months later, Worrall remains fearful of hospitals and traumatised by what happened.

"Even at home when my husband puts me to bed at night, I now have to have a small light on in the bedroom until he comes to bed because I just don't like being in the dark."

Hospital apologises

Te Whatu Ora CCHV repeatedly apologised to Worrall and her family in statements to 1News.

"We recognise that Mrs Worrall's experience with a confused patient on the ward was distressing and we deeply regret that, despite our efforts to curb this behaviour, she continued to experience negative and unwanted contact from the other patient," Farley said, noting the ward treats patients with complex and challenging conditions.

Worrall was moved further away from the door in her room, and was offered a room to herself, which she declined. With other patients in the same room, they could seek help for her.

The hospital also offered staff refresher incident reporting guidance, increased communication of patient safety in nurse meetings and communicated to security about specific risks.

The hospital says a security system is being installed on the OPRS ward entrance and the most appropriate ward for patients to be admitted to is continually reviewed by the service on a case-by-case basis.

Worrall said she felt speaking up had led to a "small change" but wasn't satisfied with the response.

Health Minister Andrew Little said in a statement it's up to nurse managers and other staff to make sure patients are safe.

"Keeping people safe in hospitals is critical; that’s why during the Covid-19 pandemic and the winter flu season we did things like defer a lot of planned care. There’s no excuse for this sort of behaviour."

Nurses' union not surprised

New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere (leader) Kerri Nuku wasn't surprised to hear about Worrall's case, and said similar incidents will continue until staffing pressures are addressed.

"The issue is about the resource and whether or not they've got the time to give the one-on-one. Sometimes at the moment with the distribution or workforce pressures there's not always that time and they're pulled between other services or cares that they need to provide.

"It's distressing for the patients and their families that are involved in this and it's also really distressing for the nurses that are bystanders to this and often helpless to be able to remedy it."

In August, the Government announced a range of initiatives to recruit health workers, with Little saying the moves were just the start of Te Whatu Ora Health NZ’s workforce plan.

International nurses can receive up to $10,000 for New Zealand registration costs, a local reregistration initiative has been expanded and an international recruitment service has been set up within Te Whatu Ora, among other initiatives.

"While we've heard from the minister that these initiatives are happening and there's more nurses on the floor, the reality is equally as many nurses are leaving the country to go abroad," Nuku said.

"The reality is we're competing on an international market around the world with other countries who are paying better wages but also providing health and safety to their staff."

Te Whatu Ora Health NZ declined to comment while the Health and Disability Commissioner's investigation is ongoing. Worrall's been told it could take two years.

The independent Government watchdog said communication to Worrall about her complaint was delayed because staff are under increased pressure, with an unprecedented 25% increase in complaints in the 2021/22 year and staff sickness.

Shock amputation

Worrall has an ACC claim in for the initial treatment of the wound, submitted in February. Te Whatu Ora CCHV said Worrall hadn't complained about the care she received prior to being admitted to hospital.

A decision is expected by October 15, with ACC seeking expert advice externally.

In the meantime, Worrall says she's been unable to get into bed or use the bathroom unassisted. Her family constructed a ramp so she can enter her home in her wheelchair.

The family have set up a Givealittle page to help fundraise for renovations and medical garments.

Do you have a hospital story to share? Email:


More Stories