Clinical Features

Tackling Violence against Hospital Staff

An integrated approach is needed to tackle violence toward healthcare workers

Last year, a freedom of information request revealed nearly 5,800 HSE staff were physically abused while at work, while HSE data indicates an average of 16 health and social care workers are assaulted every day in hospitals and healthcare facilities in Ireland.

According to research, violence against healthcare workers has been on the rise since the Covid-19 pandemic. Frustration at long waiting times and staff shortages are often cited as factors that have contributed to the increase in hostility toward hospital workers.

Yet despite measures to intervene and prevent such abuse, healthcare staff are continuously exposed to aggressive behaviour from patients, the impacts of which are devastating. Declining mental health, increased anxiety and stress levels, injuries, increased rates of absenteeism and resignations are just some of the consequences of the ongoing abuse.

The question is ‘How’?


As mentioned, we have seen various strategies introduced to curb the abuse of healthcare workers. De-escalation training, which instils employees with the skills to diffuse potentially violent behaviour, is offered to all staff to minimise the risk of an attack taking place.

The training covers behavioural analysis, proactive strategies and communication techniques, with the goal of enabling staff to handle challenging behaviours calmly and confidently. It is a valid and valuable approach to dealing with frustrated or hostile service users, yet it is not foolproof. Aggressive behaviour is often unpredictable and despite the employee’s best efforts, hostility can quickly turn into physical abuse. This is particularly true of psychiatric facilities where mental health disorders can cause patients to behave aggressively without warning, and traditional de-escalation techniques cannot be applied.


Equally, healthcare settings often take a zero-tolerance approach to violence, which class all aggressive behaviour from patients as wholly unacceptable and in doing so fosters a culture where hospital staff are supported and respected. Nonetheless, it is not without its issues – not least the difficulty of determining what aggressive behaviour in a healthcare environment really is. Such strategies are also reactive; rather than prevent assaults from taking place, the policy poses sanctions on those who behave inappropriately. It is perhaps for this reason that despite the NHS introducing a zero-tolerance policy in 1999, rates of abuse toward healthcare workers continue to rise and a large portion of staff deem the approach to be ineffectual at preventing attacks by patients.

Technology: Staff attack systems

The limitations of these existing measures have paved the way for technology to intervene. The presence of alarm systems in healthcare settings is increasingly common, indicating the growing importance of technology to protect employees in high-risk workplaces.

Staff safety systems, such as those manufactured and installed by Pinpoint Ltd, reduce the risk of violent attacks through a powerful, reliable security network that signals when and where a potential incident is taking place.

In practice, this means that staff faced with an aggressive patient can alert responders to their exact location and the incident level by simply pressing a button on a discreet, personal alarm. Doing so allows the response team to swiftly intervene and prevent the situation from escalating further.

Staff alarms typically have two call levels, one to indicate assistance is needed (where a patient is behaving in a hostile way) and another for emergency, which signals violent behaviour is taking place. In both situations, colleagues will attend the scene to provide support and prevent the risk of harm to staff members.

The number of assaults that take place in a healthcare setting typically decreases following the installation of a safety system, as residents realise employees have access to immediate help. In this way, alarms are both a preventative and reactive measure to minimise aggression from patients and reassure employees of their safety at work.


As more instances of abuse and violence by patients are reported, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect our dedicated healthcare workers.

It is only by integrating all three strategies outlined above that healthcare settings can begin to develop a truly complete, robust approach to tackling the rising abuse of healthcare staff.

Used in conjunction with one another, modern alarm systems, de-escalation training and a zero-tolerance approach serve to effectively reduce the abuse of healthcare workers. In doing so, staff gain confidence in their safety while at work, increasing workplace morale, reducing rates of absenteeism and ultimately improving the quality of care delivered to patients.

Written by Daniel Waring, CEO, Pinpoint

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