Objectives: In recent years there have been a number of high profile cases in Irish psychiatry where consultant psychiatrists have been subjected to serious physical assaults. The last survey of assaults on consultant psychiatrists in Ireland was carried out in 1998. Therefore we sought to update the data on this topic.
Method: An anonymous questionnaire was sent out by post to all consultant psychiatrists (n = 330) identified as currently working in the Republic of Ireland.
Results: The response rate was 48.2%. Sixty per cent of respondents were working in general adult psychiatry and respondents were evenly spread throughout the country. Ninety per cent of respondents had been the victim of verbal aggression/intimidation/threatening behaviour while 55% had been physically assaulted. The majority of incidents involved male patients aged between 21-40 years with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Nearly 66% of incidents of physical violence occurred during a relapse of illness. The perpetrator had a history of violence in approximately half of all reported incidents. Physical assaults tended to occur more commonly in inpatient settings (63.7%).
Incident reporting occurred more often in physical assaults with 66% reported informally to colleagues and 20% reported to An Garda Siochana (police force of Ireland). Eighty-nine (56%) consultants described feeling ‘safe’ at work. Less than 50% reported the provision of standard safety equipment in the workplace and nearly half ofrespondents had not attended any safety training courses since their appointment. Longer experience working as a consultant psychiatrist did not appear to have an impact on reducing the rate of assaults. In addition, those who attended safety training courses did not report a reduced rate of physical assaults.
Conclusions: These findings highlight the need for both organisational and personal changes in practice in order to reduce the assault rate. Organisational changes include the provision of appropriate safety equipment, safety training for consultants, enhancing multidisciplinary teams and utilising risk assessment. Consultants' personal practices to improve their safety may offer useful information for inclusion in safety training courses. This is an area which merits further research.