A 48-year-old psychiatric nurse has been sentenced to twelve months in prison for assaulting another nurse with a syringe filled with sedating, anti-psychotic medication.

Kofi Kankam - with an address at 15 The Clarin, Athenry, Co Galway -  denied a charge of assaulting Emer Hyland, causing her harm, at the Psychiatric Unit at University Hospital Galway, on 5 February last year.

Nurse Hyland, who is in her twenties, told the hearing at Galway District Court today that gardaí came into the male ward with a patient that evening who was very unwell.

She was dealing with another patient at the time who had absconded. She was sitting in the nurse's station having just got off the phone from speaking to security about that patient when she suddenly felt a sharp pinch in her left side.

Nurse Donna Long and Kankam had been standing behind her. Long was holding a kidney dish which contained two syringes, which had been prepared for the patient the gardaí had brought in.

Ms Hyland jumped up and saw blood coming from her side and went to examine herself when Kankam approached her and said he was sorry.

During cross examination by defence solicitor, John Martin, Ms Hyland said she had not engaged in any banter with the accused. She said she had her back to him when it occurred and she had just come off the phone. 

"He passed a comment, 'I've got the gal'," she said.

Nurse Long gave evidence she was asked to draw up two syringes, one containing a sedative and the other anti-psychotic medication for the patient who had just been brought in.

She was then told the patient had opted to take medication orally and there was no need for the syringes.

She said she was standing near the nurse's station with the kidney dish containing the syringes, which had sheaths on the needles, when Kankam suddenly grabbed one of the syringes. She could see there was blood on the needle when he placed the syringe back in the dish.

The accused told Judge Mary Fahy he had never intended to harm Nurse Hyland. He said they had been engaged in some banter and he had jokingly picked up the syringe. He said he saw the sheath protecting the needle was present when he picked it up from the kidney dish and that it must have dropped off back into the dish.

He said he apologised to Nurse Hyland at the time and had since written a letter of apology.

He confirmed he had been a nurse working in Ireland for the last 10 years.

Judge Mary Fahy said Kankam was not sorry enough to come into court and plead guilty. She said it was his right to contest the charge but he had put the victim through the trauma of having to give evidence and the court had been left with no choice but impose a custodial sentence.

"It's a very serious assault, to prick someone with a syringe and to have it done to you by another professional working with you is simply outrageous," the judge said.

Mr Martin said his client had returned from Africa to face the charge and he asked the judge to suspend any sentence or his client's career would be ended.

"It should be ended", Judge Fahy said before imposing a 12-month sentence. 

Leave to appeal was granted.