Lisa Smyth: Zero-tolerance of sex crimes will only work if health trusts press charges... and Northern Ireland courts hand down stringent sentences
Official figures have revealed that the number of assaults at health service facilities is on the rise. Sadly, for those working in the NHS, the statistics won't come as much of a shock.
The fact that security guards are now employed to work in many of our emergency departments is a sad reflection of how commonplace disorderly behaviour in hospitals has become.
Many violent incidents are linked to people with mental ill health and learning disabilities, but alcohol and drugs also play a significant part.
According to statistics, six out of 10 attendances at emergency departments are alcohol related.
Indeed, anyone who has spent any time in a casualty unit on a Friday or Saturday night can attest that drunks have become a permanent feature.
Take a look around and you are sure to see police officers there to deal with disruptive and violent patients, or more often than not they will be there with a prisoner who is too drunk to be put in a cell.
However, it isn't just our emergency departments that have seen a rise in the number of violent attacks on staff.
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Community pharmacists are targets for drug addicts willing to attack staff to get their hands on their next hit, while receptionists at GP surgeries talk to patients from behind reinforced glass or metal grills. Paramedics even turn to the police to guard them if they go to areas where they feel under threat, and they can also be easy targets for criminals who want to steal medication.
It's all a sad indictment on the way many people view our health service staff.
There have been campaigns over the years to reduce the number of assaults on NHS workers.
A zero-tolerance approach has been implemented, but clearly, as the statistics released to the Belfast Telegraph reveal, the measures have done very little, if anything, to crack down on attacks on staff.
As it currently stands, health officials preach a zero-tolerance stance, but when it comes down to it, if an employee is attacked, it is down to them to press charges.
The fact is that very few victims want to go through that process, even if they are supported by their employer. Sadly, dealing with violent patients has almost become part of parcel of working in the health service - yet an attack on a health service worker is an attack on everyone.
A multi-pronged approach is needed to tackle this issue.
It is vital that we address the societal issues that contribute to attacks on NHS staff, but, in the interim, trusts pressing charges on behalf of employees and more stringent court sentences will go some way in tackling this growing problem.