Mr Robin Swann MLA, Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and his party’s Chief Whip has urged the Stormont Justice Minister “to allow courts to fling the book at thugs convicted of attacking doctors, nurses and other mercy workers”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also North Antrim UUP Chairman and Chairperson of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee, demanded the tougher sentences for such “convicted thugs” after recent statistics obtained by the UUP revealed that almost 70 staff had been assaulted in Coleraine’s Causeway Hospital.
Assemblyman Swann said the figures showed that four doctors, 63 nurses and two others had been assaulted at the Causeway Hospital for the year ending 30 September, 2016.
Mr Swann said: “The Justice Minister needs to give powers to both the police and courts to adopt a ‘gloves off’ approach to thugs who assault our mercy workers in any way.
“The figures obtained by the UUP detail the number of recorded assaults on doctors, nurses, carers, members of the Fire and Rescue Service, members of the NI Ambulance Service, and all other health workers, broken down by hospital where applicable, for year ending 30 September 2016.
“These figures reveal the unacceptable dangers that our doctors, nurses, paramedics, patients and visitors face in our hospitals, often on a daily basis. Unfortunately, other assaults – including tirades of verbal abuse – still sometimes go unrecorded.
“Our medical staff, and emergency services, already face a difficult enough task of coping with their growing volume of often incredibly difficult work so it’s deplorable that now they are also having to fear for their own personal safety.
“The Stormont Executive, and especially the Justice Minister, needs to pledge to tackling abuse and violence within the health service as these figures indicate the situation may only be getting worse, rather than better.
“There should be a zero-tolerance approach to these sorts of incidences, with those individuals found guilty of assaulting health staff being given sentences sufficient enough to act as a deterrent to others.
“That is why the Ulster Unionist Party will be following up on this revelation of the latest figures to us by contacting the Justice Minister to get answers about what punishments were handed down.
“There is the real fear that the culture of binge drinking culture, especially at the weekend night-time, could lead to an increase in the number of attacks on staff in the Causeway Hospital’s emergency department.
“We certainly do not want to see a situation developing where armed guards have to patrol Accident and Emergency departments, or that part of doctors and nurses’ training are self-defence classes,” warned Assemblyman Swann.