Editor's Viewpoint: End shameful attacks on our health workers
The description by a judge of working conditions at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital at weekends as like a circle of hell is dramatic but not far from the truth as staff will testify.
The judge's comments came as he sentenced a man for disorderly behaviour and assaulting a policeman in the A&E department.
This is unforgivable behaviour in any setting but especially in a place where the efforts of staff are purely to care for people in need.
Sadly, this was far from an isolated incident as another report in this newspaper today shows. A paramedic was shoved out of his ambulance and injured when bringing a person to hospital and his wife also suffered a number of injuries including a fractured wrist when she was assaulted while working as a nurse.
Quite rightly the Department of Health and the various trusts adopt a zero tolerance approach to attacks on staff.
We all realise that hospital staff of all grades are under immense pressure due to increased workloads and A&E departments are hospitals' front line. Weekends can see conditions in A&E become chaotic given the number of admissions leading to even greater stress for staff. It appears that drink and drugs play a large part in the bad behaviour of some people.
But as the injured paramedic says, that is no excuse for assaults on staff or police who are called to the scene.
The attacks don't just happen in hospitals but also in the community, often directed at paramedics who are summoned to health emergencies.
According to the Ambulance Service, attacks on staff are running at more than eight a week. That is a staggering - and shaming - statistic and those responsible deserve to feel the full weight of the law.
The situation at Altnagelvin Hospital is now so serious that staff are to be issued with panic alarms to alert colleagues if trouble erupts.
That is a common-sense move even if it is regrettable that it should be necessary. It is a measure which other health facilities may well copy if it proves successful in both protecting staff and cutting down on the number of assaults.
However, the real message that has to go out is that everyone who is guilty of assaulting staff either verbally or physically will be prosecuted.
We must care for the caring professionals wherever they work and show them that society will not stand for assaults on them.