Police probe 128 sex crimes at Northern Ireland's hospitals in three years
Police have investigated more than 100 reported sex crimes at Northern Ireland hospitals in the last three years.
They were among over 3,000 crimes reported to have taken place at health sites in the three years to last April.
Health unions and MLAs described the figures as "truly shocking".
Police figures obtained by this newspaper show the number of crimes at hospitals here is on the rise.
They increased from 866 reported offences in 2016/17 to 1,090 in 2017/18 and 1,131 in 2018/19 - up by more than 30% over the three years.
The total of 3,087 offences includes 128 reported sex crimes, analysis of the figures shows.
The details were released by the PSNI after a Freedom of Information request from the Belfast Telegraph.
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Across the three years, the figures include:
1,767 violent offences.
569 reports of robbery, theft and burglary.
374 incidents of criminal damage.
183 drug offences.
Police said it was possible that offences may have occurred outside or within the vicinity of the hospital, for example in the car park.
The sharp increase in reported incidents, particularly in the last two years, has led to calls for action to make hospitals safer places.
This newspaper has reported on a series of crimes in hospitals - particularly attacks on health staff.
In August 2018 a man who physically assaulted four security staff at a hospital in Belfast received probation and community service.
And in May 2019 a woman who attempted to headbutt a hospital staff member was issued with a community resolution notice.
Former Health Minister Edwin Poots said cases such as these underline the need for tougher sentences for those who are convicted of crimes which take place in and around hospitals.
"There needs to be a zero-tolerance approach against individuals who target healthcare staff and patients at hospitals," he said.
Revealing he has raised the issue with former Justice Minister Claire Sugden, he said it should be a priority for her successor.
"We will work towards getting tougher within our judicial system," he said.
"There should absolutely be tougher sentences and penalties for those who are convicted of offences that have taken place at hospitals."
Alliance health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw described the figures as "truly shocking". "The fact the annual totals are increasing is even more worrying," she said.
"We know staff working in our hospitals are under tremendous pressure and so to learn so many crimes are committed against them is absolutely appalling and truly shocking."
She added: "I will be writing to the Department of Health and chief executives of the Health and Social Care Trusts to ask what measures they are going to take to tackle these crimes and make the work environment safer for the healthcare staff."
Healthcare union Unison said the figures were indicative of the increasing pressures on an already crisis-stricken NHS.
Regional organiser Joe McCusker said: "These figures highlight not only the challenging delivery of services that healthcare workers face but the additional burden of day-to-day work.
"I'm calling for more stringent mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of workers and patients."
He said additional services are needed for victims of crime within a medical or healthcare environment.
"We also need better pastoral care for staff," he added.
The Department of Health declined to comment on the figures.