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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Health Service

Staff in Irish hospitals assaulted over 1,000 times last year - but union warns it's 'tip of iceberg'

The majority of healthcare staff attacked were nurses.

LAST YEAR, THERE were at least 1,000 instances where staff were assaulted in Irish hospitals.

Of these, 726 of these involved a nurse being assaulted but a spokesperson for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation told that these official figures from the HSE are “the tip of the iceberg” as many assaults go unreported.

In 2018, the number of assaults reported on hospital staff was 948.

Figures released via parliamentary question to Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly also show that the most assaults happened in hospitals under the Ireland East Hospital Group.

Its hospitals includes the Mater and St Vincent’s in Dublin, along with Our Lady’s in Navan and Wexford General.

Here’s a breakdown of assaults on staff up to 9 December last year:

  • Allied health professional – 22 assaults
  • Catering/housekeeping – 13
  • Medical – 30 
  • Nursing – 726
  • Other staff – 307

And here’s a breakdown by hospital group

  • RCSI Hospitals Group – 180 assaults
  • Dublin Midlands Hospital Group – 161
  • Ireland East Hospital Group – 244
  • South/South West Hospital Group – 166
  • Saolta University Health Care Group – 216
  • University of Limerick Hospital Group – 131

In its response to O’Reilly, the HSE said it has “long been proactive” in encouraging staff to report all incidents.

Incidents are broken down into harmful incidents, a no harm incident, near misses, a dangerous occurrence or a complaint.

“When considering the figures it should be noted that staff are encouraged to report all ‘near misses’ and incidents – even those that do not result in harm,” the HSE said.

“Hence, the number of incident reports should not be considered as indicative of a level of harm.”

The HSE added that funding was recently set aside and distributed nationally for the training of instructors to equip workers with skills around risk identification and the management of violence and aggression.

An INMO spokesperson said that it’s clear from the figures that nurses are “in the firing line when it comes to assaults at work”.

“These figures are the tip of the iceberg, as we know that many other assaults go unreported,” the spokesperson said. “Frontline workers often don’t have time to report or do extra paperwork.

A key driver of assaults is overcrowding. Long wait times, packed wards and short staffing can create a pressure cooker environment for patients and staff alike. The safety of our members depends on keeping wait times to a minimum. This simply means putting more staff on wards and in emergency departments.

Sinn Féin’s O’Reilly told “Overcrowded, understaffed services create a pressure cooker environment. The INMO have highlighted how patients can get frustrated at conditions and a tiny minority unacceptably lash out at staff. 

That means frontline staff being put at risk for conditions they are not responsible for.
“Workers in our hospitals and across the heath service do an amazing job in caring for the health needs of the people and they deserve the right to be able to do their jobs without fear of facing assault.”

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