Almost 250 nurses were assaulted in HSE-run hospitals in the first half of this year, new figures show.
Nine out 10 assaults on staff in hospitals (89 per cent) were against nurses, according to data provided to Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly in response to a parliamentary question.
There have been 279 assaults on staff in HSE hospitals since the beginning of January, 249 of which were against nurses.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) blamed the problems on understaffing, overcrowding and under-capacity, which it described as creating a "pressure cooker environment".
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said proper staffing in hospitals would reduce the likelihood of tense environments.
“Any assault on a frontline health worker is completely unacceptable. Nurses are clearly bearing the brunt of assaults - facing nearly 90 per cent of attacks,” he said.
“Overcrowded, understaffed services create a pressure cooker environment. Patients can get frustrated at conditions and a tiny minority unacceptably lash out at staff. That means frontline staff being put at risk for conditions they are not responsible for.”
She added that the figures were “just the tip of the iceberg”.
“Many more assaults go unreported, as nurses are often too busy to stop work and do the paperwork. The statistics also do not include voluntary hospitals, where problems are likely just as bad.”
Ms O’Reilly said the number of assaults was “staggeringly high” and the safety of health service staff needs to be prioritised. She urged the HSE to employ more security staff.
“Any assault or attempted assault on a member of the health service as they try to do their job is unacceptable,” she said.
“Nurses play a key role in the delivery of our public health services, and for them to face such high levels of assault is completely unacceptable. The HSE, and the Minister for Health, need to increase measures to reduce the number of assaults our nurses face.”