A survey of abuse within healthcare settings has unveiled that three out of five doctors have experienced or witnessed abuse at work.
This morning, the Medical Protection Society of Hospital Doctors and GPS published a study which highlighted a trend of physical and verbal abuse in healthcare settings.
The study found that 86% of doctors who have experienced or witnessed abuse in the past 12 months said it negatively affected their mental health.
Over a quarter (26%) said an increase in abuse and intimidation from patients has made them reconsider their career in healthcare.
The study found that one doctor was held at gunpoint by a drug-seeking patient, while another incident involved a patient throwing a chair at the doctor, as well as instances of spitting and physical manhandling.
On The Pat Kenny Show, a columnist and retired consultant in emergency medicine, Dr Chris Luke said that abuse is a "feature of all frontline health care settings" but has increased in recent months.
"About a year or two ago, the Medical Protection Society conducted a similar survey, which suggested that about a third of doctors were experiencing more and more levels of physical and verbal violence in the healthcare context.
"Now we've seen as much as two-thirds of doctors experiencing physical threats and verbal abuse."
Dr Luke said there is now a "mismatch" between patients' expectations of healthcare and what is actually available.
"People seem unable now to contain the frustration and they're letting it fly," he said.
"That is a huge question because it really reflects a change in society.
"People talk about the disappearance of deference, but deference also included respect.
"There is there has been a coarsening and incivility and really a growth in levels of anger and aggression in society."
The Medical Protection Society of Ireland deputy medical director, Dr James Thorpe said the organisation is calling on Government, the Gardaí, and the HSE to "consider every possible step to address this issue".
"One of the most important things is that healthcare professionals need to feel – within their place of work – that their safety is a priority and they need to be encouraged to report all abusive behaviour," he said.
"We're also calling for the HSE to consider ensuring that all healthcare settings have an appropriate forum where those who witnessed or experienced any kind of abuse from patients can talk about it and seek appropriate wellbeing support.
"The survey identified 37% of adults surveyed felt that the incidence may have resulted in staff shortages, and 39% said it was due to the referral waiting list.
"Clearly those issues are challenging to deal with, but I think sometimes the frustrations that patients are experiencing are part of the concern about the wider system."
Dr Thorpe said staff are "brutalised" by their working conditions and staff shortages.
"Shortages of staff lead indirectly to this problem," he said.
Dr Luke said the crux of the solution lies in trying to "manage people's expectations and manage people's comfort levels so that they're not distressed".
"There have got to be information systems where people know exactly how long they're likely to wait, there need to be alternatives to the GP or the A&E departments," he said.
"There has got to be appropriate lighting, appropriate food, water, chairs, accommodation, and so forth in a waiting area.
"If you have a facility that feels absolutely neglected, and completely poorly managed, that tends to encourage misbehaviour."