Physical and verbal assaults on nurses working in the Emergency Department (ED) at Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore are on the rise due to the ongoing overcrowding crisis.
That's according to INMO regional representative Dean Flanagan, who says there is a direct link between the increase in verbal assaults on ED staff and the overcrowding problems at the hospital.
According to the INMO's ED Trolley Watch, there were 45 patients awaiting a bed in Tullamore Hospital yesterday morning, the second highest figure in the country.
Last month, Tullamore, like many other hospitals across the country, recorded its worse January for overcrowding since the INMO started compiling figures in 2004.
Speaking to the Offaly Independent this week, Dean Flanagan of the INMO said that overcrowding in the ED is exasperated by nursing staff shortages throughout the hospital.
"Not only are trolley figures going up, the most worrying thing is the whole time equivalent (WTE) vacancies in the hospital are increasing as well. There are currently at least 30 WTE vacancies in the entire hospital.
"That obviously leads to strains in the wards and when you are trying to ease the escalation [in the ED] if they are short staffed in the wards it is very difficult to get them up. There are also vacancies in the ED as well. That's leaving our members even more stretched."
Mr Flanagan says that one unfortunate side effect of the overcrowding problems at the hospital has been a rise in the number of physical and verbal assaults by members of the public on ED staff.
"Unfortunately it [assaults] is something that is being reported more and more. The physical altercations are not that frequent thankfully but certainly verbal assaults on staff are more and more common."
Worried about the welfare of its members, the INMO has requested that the HSE carry out a health and safety audit at the ED.
Mr Flanagan says that the one of the reasons why overcrowding is almost a daily occurrence at Tullamore Hospital is that the HSE's escalation protocol is not being enacted fast enough. One of the reasons for this, he says, is that private patients in for elective procedures are getting priority over people in the ED.
"What you are finding is that there is a situation where consultants may be deciding to continue with the money work, for want of a better phrase, within the hospital. That patient will come in. They may need to stay in for the night and will take up a bed that would have been initially earmarked for someone in ED."
Responding to the INMO calls for a health and safety audit, the HSE issued this statement:
"The HSE has undertaken health and safety audits of the emergency department in both September 2017 and March 2016. This is in addition to the hospital's own ongoing health and safety activities."