Assaults by patients on medical staff cost €1.5m

Irish medical staff are being assaulted by patients to such an extent that on average, once every three days a staff member has to take weeks off work, costing the taxpayer €1.5m a year.

New figures show 124 nurses, doctors and other staff were forced to take sick leave last year due to assaults that have left them with broken arms, stab wounds and being left unconscious after repeated blows to the head.

Details obtained by trade newspaper the Medical Independent confirm that last year 88 people working in the health service availed of the HSE’s ‘serious physical assault scheme,’ which is designed to financially support staff forced to take time off due to their injuries.

During the same period, a further 36 employees also received help from the ‘injury at work’ scheme.

The assaults led to €1.5m worth of payouts during 2013.

However, while the figures are high, they are in line with previous levels, indicating that HSE policies to protect staff treating patients in potentially dangerous situations are failing to ensure their safety.

“The fact is a policy does not protect you,” Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation industrial relations director, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, told the Irish Examiner.

“Staff who have been assaulted have back injuries, neck injuries, broken arms, broken fingers, and have been kicked and beaten to a state of unconsciousness.

“Traditionally, most of the assaults would have occurred in the psychiatric ward, in the emergency department.

“But more and more we are now seeing incidents involving care of the elderly, in community nursing, and even some assaults in paediatrics.

“Staff levels are so low, emergency departments are completely overcrowded and patients are being seen in inappropriate settings, so there is ample ground for the pot to boil over,” she warned.

A HSE spokesperson said management “takes the matter of assaults and injuries at work seriously” and is due to roll out a national policy on the management of work-related aggression and violence ‘shortly’.”

However, despite the move, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said under-staffing and repeated budget cuts are over-riding most attempts to support staff, who are increasingly being placed in untenable safety situations.

“Staff need to be trained in the management of aggressive patients but, at the moment, because this isn’t mandatory, it isn’t done.

“We are aware of lone workers, female nurses, being in difficult working environments in the community even though the Department of Health and HSE have a statutory responsibility to protect them,” she said.

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