Doctor says fine aggressive patients: 'What we experience is very distressing'

Doctor says fine aggressive patients: 'What we experience is very distressing'

An Emergency Medical Doctor is calling for fines to be imposed on patients who assault emergency department staff.

Dr Lisa Cunningham said that verbal assaults were now so commonplace that they were “water off a duck’s back” and that physical assaults vary from being spat at, being punched and kicked to being assaulted with objects such as clipboards “or any medical equipment that's around the department at that time.”

She told Newstalk Breakfast that while such incidents are few and far between, “but what we do experience is very distressing for staff involved.”

“This all kicked off in the last few weeks for me because I went through a week of nights where I was working and saw a huge amount of unprecedented physical and verbal aggression from patients in relation to alcohol and drugs presenting in emergency department.”

Emergency department staff now routinely wear masks and protection equipment and they also rely on security staff to assist with difficult patients.

When patients get agitated “we try to verbally de-escalate the situation, we have our own protocols in place, to try to talk them down.”

Dr Cunningham said that when she was pregnant a patient had lashed out and hit her hand while she was tending to a head wound.

I had to get a security guard to help, in the morning he didn’t realise what he had done. It did set me back a bit.

She also told of a recent incident where a nurse was repeatedly hit with a clipboard and another incident where a patient defecated in the corridor, “there was a little old lady cowering under her blanket on a trolley watching this happen.”

“We cannot accept alcohol related incidents any more. I’m not talking about mental health. Even recreational use of alcohol and drugs, some go too far on the night, so I really feel there has to be some sort of penalty.

“I feel that something has to be done. We have their address so we should be able to fine, most of the time we do have to get gardaí involved too, there is a roundabout way - a fine, will make them think twice about kicking or abusing us.”

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