Healthcare workers have been subjected to over 5,500 assaults — more than 12 a day — in the last 15 months.
Figures released by the HSE show that, as well as dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare staff also faced 5,672 cases of verbal, physical, or sexual assault in the workplace.
A breakdown of the data shows that 4,763 cases occurred in 2021, with a further 909 up to March 31 of this year.
Of those, nurses have borne the brunt, with 2,876 reported assaults in 2021 and 540 incidents this year.
There have also been 164 assaults on health support staff, 38 on ambulance or transport workers, 46 on catering and housekeeping, and 81 on medical practitioners, while “other staff” in the health service faced 1,609 assaults last year and 282 in the first three months of 2022.
HSE head of national health and safety, Nicholas Parkinson, says the National Incident Management System (Nims) was introduced in 2015 to better manage data on attacks on staff.
He said the figures include “all physical, verbal, and sexual assaults on staff that have been reported” since January 1, 2021.
Mr Parkinson stressed that staff are encouraged to report all “near misses” and incidents — even that do not result in physical harm.
“The figures show that there is a level of annual fluct in the reported incidents, however, the organization continues to the reporting of all incidents,” he said in reply to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson, David Culliane.
“Ensuring the safety of employees and service users is a priority concern for the HSE. The HSE is committed to creating a safe environment within which to work or to be treated.
Tony Fitzpatrick, director of industrial relations with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization, said hospital waiting times and assaults are often linked.
He emphasized that the true figure for the number of attacks may be much higher than reported.
“The research shows that assaults are more frequent when patients and their families are forced to wait for very long periods in overcrowded hospitals,” he said.
“Unfortunately, nurses and midwives are the most visible workforce in the health service and they often bear the brunt of those assaults.
“We also know that assaults are underreported and the numbers are much higher than those we hear about.
Mr Cullinane said the figures show that more needs to be done to tackle waiting times and to protect staff.
“It shows the level of overcrowding in emergency departments is a factor and, while there is no justification, it is often a product of overcrowding,” he said.
“Every effort has to be made to bring down waiting times to beat this.
“Some of that comes down to extra beds and changes in how emergency departments are managed. There’s no justification for this, we need to take a zero-tolerance approach.
“We have to reduce the number of admissions in the first place.
“It is an accepted fact that we will end up with these waiting times but some hospitals took a zero-tolerance to waiting times and were very successful in cutting them.
“So there are things that can be done — some of it is capacity and some of it is management.”