Reports of assaults on mental health staff reach 149

By Elsa McEvoy

A worrying 150 nurses were assaulted by their mental health patients in this year alone.

Almost 150 mental health staff reported being physically assaulted by their patients in 2017 so far, an increase of 138 since 2015.

A recent FOI from the HSE revealed that 149 of staff working in the mental health department reported being assaulted by their patients this year alone in comparison to just 11 in 2015 and three in 2014.

The figure jumped to a worrying 145 incidents reported in 2016.

The number of incidents is cause for worry among student nurses going on placement.

“Just like any placement, you’re anxious about it but in particular the psych placement because you’re weary about saying the wrong thing,” said first year Lauren Walsh studying general nursing in DCU.

“[Mentally ill patients] can’t help it and we have to help them but I don’t think it’s acceptable for nurses to be treated like that,” she said.

Final year general nursing student in DCU, Aoife Long said, “No, we don’t get any kind of self-defense training but I had no problems on my psych placement.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said that they view the safety of their staff as a very serious issue.

“The Mental Health Lead for Quality and Service User Safety continues to work with staff members in all Community Health Organisations (CHOs) and the National Forensic Hospital to further improve safety in all of our mental health settings,” they said.

Derek Cunningham, a spokesperson for The Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland, also commented on the number of assaults reported and feels that the figure is underestimated.

“While psychiatric nurses accept that assaults do happen in the course of their work there is growing concern at the incidence of assaults taking place,” he said.

“The PNA believes that even the latest figures may be an underestimate of the true extent of the problem and will be conducting its own survey in the coming months to assess the numbers of assaults taking place and the factors contributing to them.”

Elsa McEvoy