Health trust seeks direct 999 link to police over attacks
A health trust is considering installing a direct communication link between one of its hospitals and police because of the number of attacks on staff.
More than 850 physical assaults were carried out on workers in the Western Health Trust in the past 12 months.
The situation has become so serious that personal alarms have been issued to A&E staff.
A link between the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen and the PSNI is also under consideration.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton said: "The Western Health and Social Care Trust is holding discussions with the PSNI and consideration will be given to a direct communication link to the local PSNI station.
"A panic alarm system is in place at a number of locations throughout the South West Acute Hospital.
"The trust is currently finalising plans to supplement this system with personal alarm devices in the emergency department."
Mr Hamilton was responding to an Assembly question from Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan.
The Western Trust, which covers the Fermanagh, Omagh and Londonderry region, recorded 857 physical attacks on its staff in the 12 months to April.
A further 828 attacks were recorded in the previous year, and 851 in the 2012/13 year.
Mr Flanagan said the need for a communications link arose after some staff had difficulty reporting attacks.
"A caller to the office had complained that while they were in the hospital, someone was attacking staff and it took considerable time to get the police and for the police to come out," he said.
"We have been examining the possibility of getting a direct link between staff in the hospital and police to act as a deterrent and show that these attacks are wrong.
"It would also give staff the peace of mind that, if there is a disturbance, police can be reached easily."
In February this newspaper reported how, in the space of a year, 6,091 physical attacks on staff were reported across the five health trusts.
A further 116 assaults took place against paramedics from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. It means there were 17 attacks on health staff each day in Northern Ireland on average.
The most serious incidents included an auxiliary nurse who suffered a damaged eye after she was kicked in the face by a violent patient.
In another case a social worker was bitten and stabbed in the arm, face and head with a pen.
A female worker also had part of her hair ripped out and was bitten, scratched and kicked.
Mr Flanagan said the number of attacks on health workers was unacceptable.
"It is a disgrace that frontline workers have to put up with this situation," he added.
"Much more needs to be done to protect workers and the people carrying out these attacks need to be dealt with more severely by the police and the courts."