Figures released to Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Health, David Cullinane, reveal that over 5 nurses were physically, verbally or sexually assaulted every day during the month of June. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has demanded increased security measures across all areas of hospital campuses.

263 assaults took place against healthcare workers in June with 160 targeting nurses working in the Health Service Executive.

In 2021, only 446 inspections out of 7,477 were carried out by the Health and Safety Authority in the health and social care sector compared to 2,865 out of 7,477 in the construction sector.

Issues such as overcrowding, new COVID measures in hospitals and understaffing have contributed to this problem. High levels of abuse are seen in Emergency Departments with a call for 24-hour security in all areas of hospitals to tackle the issue.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha stated:

“The pressure cooker-type environment that our members work in is leading to more assaults. This means that frontline staff are being put at risk for conditions they are not responsible for.”

“Soothing words from their employer and an acknowledgment of the scale of the problem is not enough for our members at this stage. In the last year, 90% of our members reported being mentally exhausted during or after work. Inadequate safety protections only add to the burnout.”

Over 143 staff availed of the HSE Serious Physical Assault Scheme last year, which allows them to take six months of paid leave after an assault, according to the nurses’ union.

She states that a zero-tolerance policy is necessary when handling such cases, some of which have ended victims’ careers. Many nurses and midwives have not reported incidents of abuse because they are not provided with the support to do so.

“The Health and Safety Authority needs to play an enhanced role in tackling assaults of nurses. There must be more inspections, and prosecutions of employers who fail to keep staff safe. There must be a dedicated division established within the HSA to deal directly with the health service” said Ní Sheaghdha. 

The HSE released a statement in May responding to the figures by claiming that the reports include all “near misses” and incidents, even those that did not result in harm. “The number of incident reports should not be considered as indicative of a level of harm. There may also be multiple reports relating to the same incident”, according to the HSE.

Ella Waddington – Assistant News Editor