There were over 6,000 attacks on nurses working in Northern Ireland’s health service last year, new figures show.
Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle said any form of attack on nurses and other healthcare workers is “totally unacceptable”.
The figures were released by Northern Ireland’s five Health Trusts.
Last year there were 6,651 attacks on staff — 6,138 were directed at nurses, 97 at doctors 416 at other staff.
In the Belfast Trust area there were almost four thousand attacks on nurses, almost 8,00 in Western Trust area, 542 in South Eastern Trust area, 452 in Northern Trust area and 395 in the Southern Trust.
Ms McArdle said: “Health and social care staff work incredibly hard in a high-pressure environment and I am appalled to think that people who dedicate themselves to caring for others and saving lives are being subjected to verbal or physical abuse within their place of work and wish to ensure staff, the public and patients are safeguarded from violent and antisocial behaviour.
“These experiences have a hugely negative impact on their performance at work as well as physical and mental health of healthcare staff, and their personal and family relationships. Healthcare workers often express an understanding as to why some people they work with may behave in certain ways, sometimes that’s due to illness but often it’s just unacceptable behaviour.”
She continued: “People tend to think the majority of these attacks occur in A&E Departments where alcohol or drug abuse appear to be causal factors. The majority of recorded incidents across the HSC are linked to persons with mental health and learning disability rather than any malicious intent.
“Whilst many of these incidents are a direct result of illness Employers need to understand how to meet their responsibilities to employees to fulfil their duty of care and to do that they have to understand particular issues associated with providing care in challenging and complex situations.”
The department of health say each health trust operates a robust xero tolerance policy, overseen by a senior director.
A spokesperson said: “The policy requires the provision of a working environment where employees can undertake their duties without fear of abuse or violence.”
Chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle continued: “Whilst it is recognised that incidents of an aggressive or violent nature cannot be fully eliminated, the policy provides a means to manage and minimise the risk to employees. It aims to ensure that all staff are aware of, and are protected from, as far as is reasonably practical, violent or potentially violent situations that may occur within Trust facilities and/or whilst staff are on duty.
“A ‘zero tolerance task and finish group’ has been established to review the existing policy and to develop a regional policy for the management of incidents of violence and aggression taking account of any recent policy/legislative change and best practice.”
The group should complete the work in the summer, the department said.