Hospital staff panic alarms went unused at Irish hospital

Personal alarms bought for a hospital where a nurse was attacked have lain in boxes for two years because no money was available to operate them.

The expensive devices - similar to burglar alarms - were purchased for the Causeway hospital in Coleraine, Co Derry, as part of a government campaign to reduce assaults on healthcare staff.

A spokesman for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust last night admitted the alarms had never been used because the "necessary funding wasn't in place" to link them to a security system, such as the town's police station or a call centre.

Calls for the introduction of security guards at the Causeway were made by staff following an attack on an accident and emergency nurse last week.

Nicola Cummings (41) was left with a black eye and heavy bruising after being punched in the face four times by a drunken young woman attending the emergency unit early on Thursday.

It was the second time a patient had assaulted her in the past two years. A colleague was punched and had a chair thrown at her.

Ms Cummings said hospital management's failure to introduce the alarms made a mockery of a "zero-tolerance" campaign on violence.

"What we really need is a security presence. Failing that, an alarm system with a quick link-up to the local police would give reassurance to staff and hopefully act as a deterrent to those who attack staff," she said.

"I have been nursing for more than 20 years and the level of assaults is increasing all the time."

Ms Cummings said a new measure to introduce cheaper personal 'noise alarms' to staff, which will have no link-up to security and are similar to rape alarms, would not work.

The Royal College of Nursing expressed "grave concern" and said it would raise the matter with the Department of Health.

Spokeswoman Maureen Scott said the trust had failed in its duty of care towards its staff.

At a meeting of the trust last night its chief executive, Norma Evans, told SDLP assembly member John Dallat that security at the Causeway would be reviewed.