Figures Reveal Shock Rise In Health Attacks

ATTACKS on health service employees look set to reach record levels after the latest statistics on assaults on staff were revealed yesterday.

The shock figures were revealed by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey in response to an Assembly question by DUP MLA Simon Hamilton.

The figures showed that in the six months from April 1 to the end of September 2007, 2,049 physical attacks were carried out against health service staff across Northern Ireland.

If the level of assaults continues, the figure for 2007-8 could equal that of the previous year which reached a staggering 4,283 incidents.

The total for the year before was 3,590 while in 2004-5 it was 3,825.

Northern Ireland health and safety representative for the Royal College of Nursing Robert Moore says the statistics are very worrying.

“I got nurses to write to me a year or so ago about their experiences when they have been attacked.

“Some have had things thrown at them including knives and other instruments.

“They have also had situations where the abuse has been verbal but threatened to turn into violence and I have been involved in incidents in mental health units where staff have been attacked.”

“There are elements of the public that need to get the message that this is not acceptable and that there is legislation allowing staff to take action against aggressors.

“We don’t look at people as to what flags they wave, what scarves they wear, and nurses and medical staff are entitled to be treated with the same respect.

“Just because we wear a uniform doesn’t make us a target for attack.

“Basically this should not be happening.

“Nurses and other staff are there to help people and should be allowed to get on with their jobs.”

Mr Moore said the assaults not only affect the victim but have a domino effect on the people they work with and ultimately on the service itself.

“These attacks not only affect people at the time, they affect individuals in the long term.

“There are the physical and mental effects for the individual and you end up with staff off sick which then affects colleagues who have to make up for their absence which then in turn affects the service they are able to provide.

“It hits the morale of people who have to work harder in the absence of the person who is off, as well as the trauma of witnessing such attacks.”

Mr Moore said more had to be done to halt the culture of violence against medical staff.

“The department has thrown its weight behind zero tolerance, but these figures may suggest that the campaign is not working.

“Maybe it’s too early to say but that’s my feeling.”

The nurses’ representative said it wasn’t just staff at A&E departments who were at risk.

“The RCN has been running a campaign called You Are Not Alone designed to protect nurses and other health care professionals working out in the community.

Health, Social Services and Public Safety Minister Michael McGimpsey said last night: “I am fully committed to improving health and safety protection for all health and social care staff.