In 2016, 2017 and 2018, over 15,800 physical and verbal assaults occurred, according to information released by the HSE under Freedom of Information legislation.
The vast majority of assaults on HSE staff — more than 12,000 — were physical in nature, states the information, which is correct up to 12 December 2018.
The data reveals that physical and verbal staff assaults amounted to just over 6,000 in 2016 but fell to 5,500 in 2017 and 4,300 last year.
As the number of assaults decreased, so too did the number of payments issued to staff under the HSE’s Assault at Work Scheme.
In 2016, 158 individuals received payment under the scheme, compared to 139 in 2017 and 135 in 2018.
Under the scheme, payment is issued to healthcare staff absent from work as a result of a serious physical assault incurred during the course of their duties.
The scheme provides for full pay, including allowances and premium earnings for a period of up to three months for general support staff grades, such as healthcare assistants.
This goes up to six months for officer grades, such as nurses and medical staff.
The HSE says it predicts a rise in the number of recorded incidents in the future as a new system introduced in 2015 becomes further embedded in the system and the organisation continues to encourage reporting of all incidents.
At least 142 HSE staff were paid under the Assault at Work Scheme in 2015, at a cost to the State of €1.2 million. The HSE says it does not hold data on the cost of payments under the scheme in more recent years.
In 2015, the National Incident Management System was introduced by the State Claims Agency for recording staff incidents.
Staff are encouraged to report all “near-misses” and incidents, even those that do not result in harm, the HSE said.
“Hence, the number of incident reports should not be considered as indicative of a level of harm. There may also be multiple reports relating to the same incident.”
The HSE has a national strategy for the management of aggression and violence, titled Linking Service and Safety: Together Creating Safer Places of Service.
The strategy was published in 2008, with the intention of standardising practice to ensure violent incidents are managed in the appropriate manner across all healthcare settings.
The HSE plans to place a “renewed emphasis on the management of work-related aggression and violence in 2019” to support the strategy.