More than 6,000 nurses were attacked at work in Northern Ireland last year, new figures reveal.
In wake of the findings, the country’s chief nursing officer (CNO) Charlotte McArdle has spoken out to brand any form of abuse against a healthcare worker “totally unacceptable”.
“I am appalled to think that nurses are being subjected to verbal or physical abuse”
Data released from the five trusts in the Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSC) showed there were 6,651 attacks on staff in 2018 - 6,138 directed at nurses, 97 at doctors and 416 on other care professionals.
Ms McArdle said: “HSC 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.”
She added that these experiences had a “hugely negative impact” to staff performance at work, as well as their physical and mental health, and their personal and family relationships.
Contrary to public belief, the majority of attacks were not carried out with “malicious intent” by people who presented at accident and emergency under the influence of drugs of alcohol, Ms McArdle said. In fact, most incidents happened as a consequence of a mental health condition or learning disability.
However, Ms McArdle stressed that employers must find a way to protect healthcare workers from harm in these situations.
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“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,” said Ms McArdle.
Each trust in Northern Ireland is required to operate under a zero-tolerance policy to abuse and violence, which is overseen by a senior director.
However, in light of the new figures, Ms McArdle said a task and finish group had been set up to review the existing policy and to develop a new strategy for the ”management of incidents of violence and aggression”. This work should be completed by the group in the summer.
A breakdown of the figures shows almost 4,000 attacks on nurses happened in Belfast trust , nearly 800 in Western trust, 542 in South Eastern, 452 in Northern and 395 in Southern.