Call for ED security review as nurses report abuse

The HSE has been asked to initiate a full security review at Emergency Departments in the country’s hospitals after nurses spoke of being punched, threatened, abused and intimidated by patients. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said assaults were on the increase, and claimed the problem was often under-reported. “We had a review of the security at Emergency Departments conducted in 2016, we have sought to have that review repeated, because clearly if assaults are on the increase, something is wrong” said Phil Ni Sheaghdha, the organisation’s general secretary.

Nurses working in busy Emergency Departments told RTE’s This Week programme of being assaulted and threatened while at work. A paediatric nurse working with sick children spoke of one incident where a sick child’s relative was asked to wait in a waiting room while the child and one of her parents were spoken to by medics. “She verbally attacked me, called me names, cursed and then she said ‘I know where you park your car at nighttime, I’m going to get you, and I’m going to stab you tonight’.”

The nurse said she asked security to walk her to her car for some time after the incident out of fear of being attacked. “It’s not appropriate for us to feel so unsafe at work. We go in there to do our very best at work, and we don’t deserve that behaviour and treatment.”

Another nurse who works in a busy adult hospital said she experiences aggression from attendees “on a daily basis”. “Probably the most serious thing to happen to me was that I was punched in the face by a patient earlier this year.” “I was attending to his wounds, stepped back to get some more stuff to dress his wounds, when he lashed out, out of nowhere, very unexpected.”

She said the incident has changed the way she approaches patients since then. “I would be more cautious and would look to find an easy exit from where I’m going, to make sure I am not in a small space.” Nurses and midwives working in the community also spoke of being threatened.

One public health nurse told of attending the home of an elderly couple, to provide treatment to a woman who had sores on her leg. “When I got there the lady confided in me that she had been assaulted by her husband, and there had been a history of domestic violence in the house.” “We discussed it, and came up with a plan to admit her to the hospital for treatment for her leg, but where she would be safe, and could speak with social workers.”

She said the woman’s husband reacted angrily to the suggestion that his wife should be admitted to hospital. “He got quite angry, and lost his temper, his eyes were flashing, and he picked up the poker from the fireplace and started swinging the poker at me, and telling me to get out of the house.” “He kept swinging the poker, and coming towards me, and I picked up my phone and said I’m going to ring the guards and you’ll be in a lot of trouble if you hit a nurse.”

“That stopped him in his tracks.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said hospitals need to put protective measures in place to protect their staff while they do their duty.

“These are criminal offences, and where security is not in place for 24 hours a day, it has to be put in place,” said the organisation’s general secretary.

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