The ‘totally unacceptable’ number of assaults against health workers in Ireland is linked to the overcrowding crisis in the country’s hospitals, according to the INMO.
Freedom of Information figures obtained by Newstalk show there were nearly 8,700 reports of assault on health staff last year.
The reports include 6,900 direct physical attacks, 1,707 instances of verbal abuse and 60 sexual assaults.
Nearly half the alleged attacks were against nurses.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Deputy General Secretary David Hughes said the figures are “shocking.”
“Unfortunately, they are not new in that the number of assaults on healthcare workers - and nurses in particular - have increased over the last decade fairly substantially,” he said.
“Now perhaps that is because the reporting is better than it was but the numbers are very, very high and they are totally unacceptable.
“Nobody should go to work, especially in a caring situation, and end up themselves injured and unable to work, so it is a very, very worrying trend in society.”
He said the high figures are partly due to the overcrowded nature of Ireland’s hospitals.
“The staff are entitled to have a safe place of work and that is not always the case,” he said.
“It partly arises from the fact that the hospitals can be overcrowded and when they are overcrowded people have long waits.
“That leads to aggravation and aggression in many cases and spills over into either verbal of physical assaults.
“That level of aggression to people who are only there to provide care is completely unacceptable.”
He said the country’s hospitals need better systems of work which “avoid unnecessary aggravation and calm the situation.”
“When people are waiting long periods in waiting rooms and then on trolleys or whatever the aggression levels rise and the tensions are generally higher,” he said.
“But it is not the only reason, there are other reasons. Short-staffing pressure; people waiting hours for the next part of their treatment; they become aggressive and these attacks happen in some of those cases.
“In other cases, these are just aggressive people who lash out.”
Of all the attacks, the 4,166 against nurses make up by far the highest amount, at over 48%.
The largest amount of assaults was in the Donegal/Sligo/Leitrim/Cavan/Monaghan area, with 1,028 reports last year.
The HSE said the safety of employees and service-users is a priority and training on managing violence and aggression is provided.