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6,000 attacks on NI nurses last year spark call for tougher court sanctions


A nurse on a ward at a hospital (Peter Byrne/PA)

A nurse on a ward at a hospital (Peter Byrne/PA)

A nurse on a ward at a hospital (Peter Byrne/PA)

Courts must deal with attacks on nurses in the "most robust way possible" after more than 6,000 attacks on Northern Ireland nurses last year.

The figures from the five health trusts show 6,651 attacks on health care staff.

The majority (6,138) were attacks on nurses, 97 were on doctors and there were 416 on other health and social care staff.

In the Belfast Trust area alone there were almost 4,000 attacks on nurses, almost 800 in the Western Trust, 542 in South Eastern Trust, 452 in Northern Trust and 395 in the Southern Trust.

There were 14,900 full-time nurses and midwives here as of September 2017.

Most attacks were by people with mental health and learning disability and not malicious, a senior nurse said.

Chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle said: "These experiences have a hugely negative impact on their performance at work as well as physical and mental health of healthcare staff, and their personal and family relationships.

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"Healthcare workers often express an understanding as to why some people they work with may behave in certain ways, sometimes that's due to illness but often it's just unacceptable behaviour.

"People tend to think the majority of these attacks occur in A&E departments where alcohol or drug abuse appear to be causal factors. The majority of recorded incidents across the trusts are linked to persons with mental health and learning disability rather than any malicious intent.

"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."

Rita Devlin, acting deputy director of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Health service employers have a fundamental duty to provide a safe environment of care for all staff and need to ensure that appropriate action is taken against those who attack nurses and other health care staff. The criminal justice system also has a responsibility to send a clear message that attacks of this nature will not be tolerated and will be dealt with by the courts in the most robust way possible.

"RCN members in Northern Ireland are appalled at these statistics and it is ultimately the responsibility of the Department of Health and health service organisations to deal with the issue ."

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