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Spat at, and let down


MUH nurse ‘completely failed’ by hospital and Gardaí after spitting assault

Ger Flanagan

A NURSE at Mayo University Hospital who was spat at numerous times by a patient presenting with Covid-19 symptoms has said he feels ‘completely let down by the system’ in the aftermath of the incident.
The frontline employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, was ‘shocked’ and ‘upset’ after the incident occurred. Adding to this, he has been stressed and frustrated by the lack of support he has received from both hospital senior management and the Gardaí in the days that followed.
After being contacted by The Mayo News, the nurse revealed he made a formal complaint to the Gardaí on the evening of the assault but was told there would have to be a 14-day wait to make a statement, for health-and-safety reasons. A formal complaint was also made to the hospital.
The nurse added that he was given no offer of a Covid-19 screening by hospital management. “The only advice I received was to return to work,” he said.

‘Extremely distressing’
The nurse, who has over 20 years experience in the field, told The Mayo News about what happened during and after the shocking spitting incident.
“Last week, I was asked to help with a patient who was extremely disruptive and abusive towards staff. In the process of that action, the patient spat at myself and my other colleague. My colleague and I had to assist in dealing with the patient for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, and in that time we were spat at numerous times … not directly in our faces but towards the side of our heads.
“It was an extremely distressing situation for all the staff and the other patients in the hospital.”
The nurse was wearing a ‘full surgical gown’ and a mask during the incident, but he revealed that the PPE is not sufficient for being in close contact with a person displaying symptoms of Covid-19.
Although left shaken after the incident, the nurse received no physical injuries.
He returned to work immediately, finishing the remaining three days on the week’s roster.
“We’re in the middle of a national crisis, and I still feel it’s my duty to go back and do my job,” the nurse said.
However, there has been no conversation between any member of the hospital’s senior management and the nurse since.
“As it was happening I was thinking about my own security and my colleagues’ security, as well as the patient’s, because at the end of the day we had a duty of care for that person,” the nurse said.
“Once the incident was over I was transferred to the Emergency Department. The only advice I received was to return to work. I wasn’t offered a Covid screening because I had no symptoms.
“I had to go shower in a patient’s shower because staff in the hospital have no proper facilities for getting showered or lockers for changing our clothes. We’re asked not to wear our uniform to or from work, so we’re having to change in patient toilets.
“When I left work I went home to my family and it was very upsetting, because I could have been bringing it [Covid-19] home.
“I got excellent support from my colleagues and direct line manager, and I also spoke to the infection-control team in the hospital, but I’ve had no conversation with any member of the senior management yet.”
‘Completely failed’
UPON returning home that evening, the nurse contacted the Gardaí and made a formal complaint.
After being told that he would have to wait 14 days to make a statement on health-and-safety grounds, he was later contacted by a victim-liaision officer from An Garda Síochána and was told a statement could be taken via email, but that there would be a delay in processing it.
The Mayo News understands that the patient who spat at him has subsequently tested negative for the virus. However, this in no way detracts from the extremely concerning responses that this nurse experienced from both hospital management and the Gardaí. Nor does it detract from the appalling impact of this and other similar assaults on frontline staff.
“Since this incident there has been at least three assaults across the country, two of which were on healthcare workers and one on a guard, and each person was charged or is in custody now,” the nurse said. “There was an incident in Sligo involving a guard; a woman was before a judge the following day and received 28 days in jail, but I was spat at a few times and nothing happens.”
During that court case in Sligo, Superintendent Kevin English, said that he was seeking ‘the protection’ of the court and that he will not tolerate members of the public spitting or coughing on frontline gardaí, especially in the current pandemic.
The incident involving the MUH nurse who was spat did not receive the same kind of zero-tolerance attitude, however.
“I just can’t understand, as a frontline worker dealing directly with Covid-19 patients, how it’s deemed acceptable by the hospital and the gardaí that this could happen and nothing be done about it,” the nurse told The Mayo News.
“And that’s where a lot of my main upset and frustration is now. I feel completely let down by the system, completely failed by the senior management of the hospital, where I have worked for over 20 years, and by the Gardaí.”
When contacted by The Mayo News, Ballina based Garda Superintendent Joe Doherty said he was not aware of the incident, but said he will facilitate a statement himself personally.
“If the individual involved contacts me directly I will facilitate the taking of a statement immediately and I will ensure the guidelines laid down by the HSE will be adhered to,” he said.
We have the facilities in place in relation to taking the statement in incidents like this.
“We treat incidents like this with the utmost seriousness and it will be investigated fully.”
‘Minimal support’
When this newspaper went to print, the nurse still had not had any conversation with the aforementioned authorities around the incident. He returned to work yesterday (Monday).
The nurse revealed that the hospital and its employees are under huge pressure right now and that there is no other option left for them but to speak out to highlight the security issues and lack of support for the frontline workers.
“I don’t think I have ever made a complaint in my career,” the nurse said. “But there’s a lot of anxiety and fear within the hospital right now.
“Everyone is under huge pressure, and there’s minimal support coming from senior management, whether it’s basic changing facilities or security. It’s an ongoing issue.
“But I have to compliment the nurses and my colleagues in the hospital, the porters, the healthcare assistants, the cleaners, the kitchen staff, doctors, the clerical staff and everyone who is dealing directly with patients in there.
“They are on the real frontline and doing the best they can under horrendous circumstances.
I just hope that the appreciation will be shown when all this is over.”
The Mayo News contacted the HSE about this story, but received no response.