Patient threatens doctor with knife on psych ward

A junior doctor narrowly escaped serious injury after he was threatened with a knife in a hospital corridor by a psychiatric patient.

The incident, at Waterford Regional Hospital, has been heavily criticised by the Psychiatric Nurses Association as a further sign of the risks posed to staff working in the sector.

Trade newspaper the Medical Independent has reported the threat took place in the major South East facility’s department of psychiatry unit in November.

Over the subsequent four months, other potential security issues were also noted at the same unit, including a man who began strangling an elderly patient last month.

During the past year, a further three psychiatric nurses have also been assaulted while carrying out their duties.

These include two nurses who spent a fortnight each on sick leave after allegedly being punched and thrown to the floor by a patient, and another who was unable to work for an entire month after being allegedly assaulted and bitten.

Following the incidents, all three patients continued to be treated at the facility, although two were released shortly after.

While the HSE declined to comment on individual cases, a spokesperson insisted the “care of its patients and welfare of its staff are paramount considerations” for the health service.

“The HSE takes very seriously any reports of incidents in which staff in the course of their work or patients whilst in the care of the HSE would encounter violence,” a spokesperson said.

“Such matters are fully investigated in accordance with protocols, inclusive of co-operation with requisite authorities such as An Garda Síochána.”

While serious attacks on medical staff are rare, the issue gained national attention in Jan 2008 when a Limerick-based consultant psychiatrist suffered “horrific” stab wounds when a patient attacked him.

Dr Ananth Pullela, then 55, received multiple stab wounds when the incident occurred at St Anne’s Day Hospital on Roxboro Road, and at one point was in a critical condition.

The internationally regarded forensic psychiatrist, who was born in India and qualified in New Zealand, recovered but was deeply shocked by the event.

One of his colleagues, then 64-year-old consultant psychologist Dr Catherine Burns, was also stabbed during the frenzy.

Anthony McMahon, of Raheen Square, Ballinacurra Weston, Limerick, was later charged with the offence and sentenced to 10 years in prison. A DPP move to increase the sentence further was dismissed by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

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