Thousands of patients attending public health facilities are subjected to violence, harassment and aggression by other patients, Health Service Executive figures show.
More than 10,000 such incidents were recorded in 2016, according to information provided by the HSE in response to a parliamentary question. The service has been asked to provide more up-to-date figures.
Of the 10,325 incidents of violence, harassment or aggressive behaviour in that year, 9,536 were perpetrated by service users on other service users.
More extensive information on assaults on staff is available. There were 50,050 assaults on staff in the past five years, according to the HSE. This includes 39,587 direct physical assaults, 274 sexual assaults and 10,189 verbal assaults.
More than 33,000 nurses reported assaults between 2015 and 2021, according to separate figures.
The number of assaults reported by nurses averaged more than 5,000 a year until the Covid pandemic when numbers dipped slightly.
The HSE has also recorded 733 assaults on medical staff during the six-year period.
The HSE cautions that its figures include “near misses” and “no harm incidents” as well as incidents that resulted in a “dangerous occurrence” or complaint. There can also be multiple reports relating to the same incident.
On Monday, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called for a security audit to be carried out in the State’s hospitals following an incident at the Mercy University Hospital (MUH) in Cork in which a patient was fatally assaulted and a nurse was injured.
Matthew Healy (89), a retired farmer, died after allegedly being attacked by another patient, on a general ward in the hospital on Sunday morning. A male nurse suffered a broken finger when he tried to stop the attack.
In a three-month period last summer, the HSE recorded 679 incidents of physical, verbal or sexual assaults against nurses, 323 against “other staff”, 72 against allied health professionals and 17 against doctors.
Particular groups of staff may be at greater risk of violence, the HSE has advised its employees. These include staff working alone or after normal working hours, those in authority or those handling valuables or medication.
Sinn Féin last year proposed spending €2 million a year on increasing security in hospitals to protect frontline workers and reduce the level of assaults.
Seven nurses working in the Irish health system are assaulted every day, the annual conference of the INMO heard last year.
More than 143 staff availed of the HSE Serious Physical Assault Scheme in 2021, which entitles workers to six months’ paid leave after an assault, according to the union.
One nurse who spoke at the gathering recounted how she was threatened by the mother of a sick child who told her she knew where she parked her car and “would kill me” when she went to it at the end of her shift.
The nurse who works in a busy Dublin paediatric hospital told delegates aggression had “gone out of control” since Covid started to increase pressure on emergency departments.
The nurse said he had experienced “numerous incidents” over six years and described the ED as a “pressure cooker”.
Examples of extreme violence in health settings are thankfully relatively rare.
In 2014, a 55-year-old female patient was fatally stabbed by another patient on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital in Waterford. The family of Maria O’Brien subsequently settled a civil action over her death, for which the HSE apologised.
The perpetrator, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was not taking his medication at the time of the attack.
In 2008, a consultant psychiatrist was stabbed by a patient with a knife at St Patrick’s Hospital, a private mental health facility.