600 staff attacked per year in HSE hospitals

More than 600 hospital staff are assaulted each year, with nurses bearing the brunt of workplace violence.

Figures released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act show 3,462 incidents of physical assaults were recorded by the HSE between January 1, 2011, and July 27, 2016.

The overall figure is much higher once voluntary hospitals are taken into account, but these figures are not compiled by the HSE.

Almost 70% of assaults are against frontline staff, with 2,372 incidents recorded against nurses, midwives, psychiatric nurses or other nursing staff.

The statistics for hospitals run by the HSE also show:

  • 521 hospital attendants were attacked;
  • 289 care workers were assaulted;
  • 31 porters, 19 security staff and 31 catering staff were physically and verbally abused;
  • Incidents were also recorded against housekeeping and maintenance staff, consultants and physiotherapists;
  • 771 of the assailants were identified as patients. A further seven assailants are listed as members of the public, four recorded as staff members, three recorded as family members, and one recorded as a prisoner;
  • More than a third (37%) of all assaults resulted in a physical injury.

Irish Nurses and Midwife Organisation (INMO) general secretary Liam Doran said more needs to be done to protect staff in hospitals.

“It’s a consequence unfortunately of a societal issue, particularly on nights and at weekends. Regrettably, the employer has been too passive,” he said, adding that far more needs to be done to minimise the threat of assault.

“No employer can eradicate the threat of workplace violence completely, but they can minimise the risks by very visibly seeking prosecutions. And that doesn’t happen. It isn’t just physical abuse, it’s the threatening behaviour, the spitting on people. It is not acceptable.”

INMO director of industrial relations Phil Ní Shéaghdha said hospital management have to make it known there is no tolerance towards any form of abuse, be it verbal or physical.

“The idea it is ok, that it will be tolerated, or that there will be no consequences for assaulting a member of frontline staff has to be removed,” she said.

INMO director of industrial relations Phil Ní Shéaghdha
INMO director of industrial relations Phil Ní Shéaghdha

The FoI document details data provided by the State Claims Agency to the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Some 843 of the assaults resulted in a general injury, with 441 listed as a soft-tissue or musculoskeletal injury, according to the NIMS classification system.

Some 69 incidents resulted in a traumatic or emotional injury.

The HSE says it is important to remember that in some cases patients and families are experiencing life-changing events, extreme grief or under heavy medication:

“While it is accepted that the provision of health services can involve situational conflicts, this recognition should not be equated with considering any form of aggression and/or violence as being inherent, inevitable or acceptable.”

Three hospital security staff were injured after a psychiatric patient went berserk in Cork University Hospital’s (CUH) emergency department (ED) last month. Gardaí had to be called to help hospital staff after the male patient became extremely agitated in the ED.

One security guard suffered a shoulder injury while helping to restrain the patient as doctors tried to administer injections. Two other staff suffered minor injuries. Members of the patient’s family were also called to the hospital.

In September, a nurse suffered a fractured knee when a patient lashed out in the emergency department at Cork’s Mercy University Hospital.


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