At least 10 assaults a day in Irish hospitals, committee told
Nurses in a Dublin children’s hospital are being subjected to violent behaviour by angry patients, including spitting, verbal abuse and in one case a threat to come after them with a knife on the way home.
Aggression towards health staff is a feature across the service, particularly in hospitals as patients and families wait hours to be seen.
Emergency paediatric nurse Sylvia Chambers said she had “never experienced aggression like we have in the past few years, which is now on a daily basis”.
“There are numerous incidents where we are verbally attacked. I have been spat at,” she told the Oireachtas Health Committee.
“I have been verbally abused. I have been threatened that when I leave work that evening, I will be stabbed as I get into my car.
“I have had a grown man, six-foot-four, towering over me, throwing objects at me. It is a daily occurrence and I do not feel safe going to work.
“I don’t feel safe. My colleagues don’t feel safe. This all comes down to security. This comes down to overcrowding. The facility where our parents are asked to wait, it is not sufficient
“At night-time from 2am onwards, we only have two doctors. Sometimes we could have up to 60 to 70 patients waiting at that time.
“It’s not feasible for two doctors to see all – both patients and parents become very aggressive.
“They become tired and the nurse, who is normally the first person that they see, we’re the ones that we receive the backlash.”
Ms Chambers was among a delegation of officials and members of health unions who warned that delays arising from the pandemic were fuelling a rise in aggression.
A member of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), she said figures showed more than 10 nurses a day were being assaulted, but the true number was much higher.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), Siptu and Forsa also warned of the tensions, stress and, in some cases, bullying and racism in the workplace that are contributing to an exodus of staff.
Dr Clive Kilgallen, president of the IMO, said: “Staff and patients are placed at additional unnecessary risk because of our capacity crisis.
“This has led to widespread burnout, according to findings from a recent survey conducted by the IMO.
“These include 94pc of doctors reporting having experienced some form of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, stress, emotional stress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by work.”
Junior doctor Laura Finnegan said staff were often working in huge buildings with limited security.
The unions said the assaults resulted in few arrests or prosecutions. It was difficult to remove parents, and nurses must concentrate on treating the child, which can be nerve-racking, the committee was told.
Siptu health division organiser Kevin Figgis said support staff, who included healthcare assistants, porters, catering, cleaning and security personnel, were the biggest category affected by serious physical assaults in the workplace after nurses.
“However, they only receive 25pc of the financial supports afforded to allied health professionals, clerical officers and nursing staff, even if they are all assaulted in the same incident,” he said.
Ashley Connolly, head of health and welfare at Forsa, told the committee: “Our clerical and administrative members are regularly the first point of contact for these pressure points. They must ring families explaining their long-awaited appointment is cancelled, they must try to reassure often distressed families who are worried for their loved ones.
“They must deal with complaints from members of the public about poor service delivery.
“It’s a highly emotive situation for the lowest paid in our health service to deal with every single day.
“Our members want to deliver the best standard of care, but they cannot continue to work in an environment that continues to fail them and service users daily. And so, they are leaving, often with no other job to go to.”