Belfast Telegraph

NHS staff attacked 25,000 times in three years

By Adrian Rutherford

Health staff were assaulted almost 25,000 times in the past three years - prompting calls for tougher punishments.

A health worker is physically or verbally attacked every hour in Northern Ireland on average.

In the 12 months to last September, more than 8,000 assaults were recorded.

The figures were disclosed by Health Minister Simon Hamilton after an Assembly question from UUP MLA Samuel Gardiner.

UUP health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said they were shocking statistics. "The dedication demonstrated night and day by our health workers is extraordinary," she said.

"Unfortunately, however, not only are they being forced to work under the increasingly chaotic circumstances of burgeoning waiting times and growing patient anxiety, now their principal aim of protecting the public is being hampered by the requirement to first protect themselves."

According to Mr Hamilton's answer, a total of 24,237 attacks on health service staff took place between September 2012 and September 2015.

The Belfast Trust alone saw 9,294 physical and verbal assaults.

The Northern Trust recorded 4,006 incidents, the Southern Trust recorded 3,926 and the Western Trust had 3,642 reported incidents.

In the South-Eastern Trust, 2,423 assaults were recorded.

Firefighters were attacked a further 357 times.

Mrs Dobson added: "I, like the vast majority of people across Northern Ireland, am disgusted at these outrageous figures.

"Our health staff and emergency workers go to work every day to help people and earn an honest living, not to be abused and assaulted.

"There should be a zero tolerance approach taken to assaults on our health workers.

"I therefore hope that the people behind the almost 25,000 assaults in the last three years have received appropriate punishments."

Kevin McAdam from the Unite union said a survey published this week showed 14% of staff - one in every seven - had been physically attacked.

He said the figure was "alarming" - but warned other attacks go unreported.

"It is absolutely appalling and it needs to be urgently tackled," he said.

"You hear some very, very bad stories.

"Sadly it is all too common and there is a culture which needs to be addressed."

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