Belfast Telegraph

Altnagelvin Hospital to install panic alarms after attacks on its staff

By Eamon Sweeney

Concerns over staff safety have led to plans to install panic alarms at a Northern Ireland hospital.

The Western Health Trust confirmed it is to introduce an alarm system because of a spate of attacks on workers at Altnagelvin hospital's accident and Emergency department.

The system, which will be operated by wifi and will see eight alarm units carried by employees, allowing them to alert colleagues to potential danger, will be installed next month.

The move comes after a judge branded working conditions at weekends in the Londonderry hospital as like a "circle of hell".

District Judge Barney McElholm's made the comments as he sentenced a 33-year-old man to four months in prison after he admitted charges of disorderly behaviour and assaulting a police officer in the emergency unit in August.

Mr McElholm said: "It must be like a circle of hell in there at the weekends, which is something which was not envisaged.

"I have spoken to people who have had the misfortune to attend the accident and emergency department in the early hours of the morning and they described what they saw as absolutely outrageous."

It was the second time in recent months that Mr McElholm had raised concerns over the situation at Altnagelvin A&E. A spokesperson for the health trust said the organisation remained committed to its zero tolerance campaign for those who abuse or attack medical staff.

They added: "No member of staff in any part of the western area, whether in hospital or community care settings, should be subjected to attack or abuse.

"A staff attack alarm system will be installed in Altnagelvin Hospital's emergency department in November."

Alan Philson, from the Foyle branch of trade union Unison, told the Derry News staff at the hospital did not feel adequately protected.

He also warned there were issues with alcohol and drugs involving patients attending A&E, but that staff step up and deal with it professionally.

Mr Philson said: "We find staff are really overworked and under a lot of strain. Junior staff are expected to step up without being given the proper mentoring. A lot of nurses are being posted to A&E and expected to step up to the mark. It is chaotic."

Garret Martin, of the Royal College of Nursing, added: "Despite a zero tolerance campaign instigated by the Department of Health, there has been no reduction in the number of attacks.

"Those who attack nurses and other health staff must be dealt with appropriately under the law.

"People need to understand that if they assault a nurse or any other health professional, they will be prosecuted."

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