Consultant supports prison sentences for those who assault hospital staff

A consultant in emergency medicine “wholeheartedly” supports a call for mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of assaulting frontline staff following an incident in his own hospital where a nurse suffered a fractured kneecap.

In a wide-ranging interview in today’s Irish Examiner, Dr Adrian Murphy, who works at both the Mercy University Hospital (MUH) and Cork University Hospital (CUH), said violence and aggression “are a regular component of our work environment”.

“Sometimes it’s a manifestation of mental illness or medical illness but often it is as a consequence of intoxication through alcohol or drugs. And occasionally it’s a result of simple badness.

“But we can’t tolerate that. And we shouldn’t have to. And we shouldn’t have to find ourselves in a situation where we accept that coming into work, you’re going to be faced with this,” Dr Murphy said.

Dr Murphy’s comments are in the wake of an attack by a patient on a nurse at MUH’s emergency department (ED) last month which prompted calls from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation for mandatory sentences for those convicted of such attacks.

Dr Murphy said while verbal abuse could be a daily occurrence, physical abuse was a “rarer event”.

“But when it happens, it’s frightening for staff. I wouldn’t like to think of any of our staff, particularly any of our nurses, leaving home and going home to their kids and husband of an evening having been assaulted at work. Nobody should have to work in that kind of environment,” he said.

Strategies had been put in place at MUH to try and deal with incidents of violence in the ED, involving mandatory training of staff across the department, Dr Murphy said.

“In the vast majority of cases it revolves around communication and the vast majority of verbally abusive or aggressive patients can be dealt with in a non-confortational way, where essentially you are talking them down,” he said.

In any event they were supported by a “robust security system in the ED” he said, involving security, portering and other staff.

“And that’s reassuring, but it’s essential in EDs,” he said.

Asked if he believed the opening hours at MUH emergency department would ever be reduced from a ’round-the-clock service to a 12-hour service as envisaged in the Cork/Kerry hospitals reconfiguration plan, Dr Murphy said he “couldn’t see it happening overnight”.

“On a practical level, I don’t believe that the existing ED in CUH could accommodate what we are seeing, c34,000 patients per annum. On the basis of capacity alone, CUH couldn’t accommodate that.”

Analysis: 11


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