A worrying rise of assaults on nursing staff has been outlined by the President of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, as hospital overcrowding creates additional problems for staff and patients.
Karen McGowan spoke of the increase of violence towards nursing staff on RTÉ's Morning Ireland show.
She said the issue had been discussed at the union’s annual conference in Co Sligo this week
"I am an ED nurse. We know what overcrowding is and it has definitely got worse," she told Morning Ireland.
Since the start of 2021, more than 3,400 nurses have reported violent incidents, figures provided by the HSE show.
Ms McGowan said it is "no surprise" to hear that there had been an increase in assaults on nurses, particularly in emergency departments.
Hospital overcrowding was "challenging" for patients and staff, she said, with a lack of space leading to aggression and an increase in people's anxiety.
Labour health spokesperson Duncan Smith said the worrying trend of patient facing workers in the health service demands improved safety procedures in hospitals.
"The shocking number of patient-facing workers being assaulted in their workplace must be addressed by the HSE. No worker should have to be afraid of going into work, or be constantly watching for aggressive or threatening behaviour.
"It is incumbent on the HSE and hospital management to respond to these shockingly high figures, ensure these attacks are taken seriously, and that where possible action is taken, that assaults are reported to An Garda Síochána, and criminal prosecutions taken," Deputy Smith said.
"It was difficult to listen to the INMO President Karen McGowen on the radio this morning speaking about the trauma emergency service nurses have experienced. Unions should not be crying out for safe staffing in our hospitals – safety at work should be guaranteed for all workers.
"The HSE figures show that all patient facing workers from nurses to Health Care Assistants to Porters to paramedics are experiencing serious physical assault. The HSE has a duty of care to all workers. It is also time the Serious Physical Assault Scheme itself is reviewed and updated to support all health care workers who suffer assault in the workplace. We also have a situation where there is a clear inequity within the policy for support grade workers and that must be comprehensively addressed by the HSE.
“Ultimately people have a right to be safe at work. Health staff must be able to do their job safely and in the knowledge that any attack on them will be taken seriously and prosecuted wherever possible," Deputy Smith said.
"While assaults and attacks will always unfortunately occur, particularly in what can be a stressful and upsetting environment for patients and families, knowing that there is a zero-tolerance attitude to such misbehaviour would go some way to change societal attitudes and help protect frontline staff," the Labour health spokesperson concluded.
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