Nurses were victims in almost 70% of total assaults on hospital staff over the last ten years, according to HSE figures.

Between 2008 and the end of November this year, 10,744 staff reported assaults ranging from actual harm to 'near misses' and complaints, the figures released to Sinn Féin's health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly show.

More than 7,500, or over 70%, of those assaults targeted nurses. 

So far in 2018, 948 incidents have been reported. In 61% of them, nurses were the victims.

Doctors reported 25 assaults while other grades, including catering and housekeeping staff, reported another 339 incidents.

The HSE stresses that not all reported attacks involved actual harm, but could include "near misses", dangerous occurrences and complaints involving physical, verbal or sexual assault.

However, it expects the statistics to rise in the future as staff are encouraged to formally report every incident.

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It says the safety of employees and service users is a HSE priority, with an emphasis on training and equipping the workforce to identify risk and to manage violence and aggression.

The HSE will be placing a renewed emphasis on the management of work-related aggression and violence in 2019 to support the organisational strategy.

Ms O'Reilly - a former SIPTU nursing official - urged the HSE to employ more security staff in emergency departments to ensure hospital employees are protected.

The highest number of incidents so far this year arose in the Royal College of Surgeons/Dublin North East Hospital Group and the Saolta West/North West group, with 195 assaults in each.

The Dublin North East Group includes Beaumont Hospital, Connolly Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda, Louth County Hospital Dundalk, Cavan General Hospital, Monaghan Hospital and the Rotunda Maternity Hospital.

The Saolta West/North West Hospital Group controls University Hospital Galway, Merlin Park University Hospital, Sligo Regional Hospital, Letterkenny University Hospital, Mayo General Hospital, Portiuncula Hospital, and Roscommon County Hospital.

177 employees were assaulted in the Ireland East Hospital Group.

It incorporates Dublin's Mater Hospital, St Vincent's University Hospital, the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar, St Luke's General Hospital, Kilkenny, Wexford General Hospital, Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, St Columcille's Hospital Loughlinstown Dublin,  St Michael's Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital Dublin, the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital Dublin and the National Maternity Hospital Dublin

137 incidents of assault were reported in the South/South West Hospital Group.

That group includes Cork University Hospital/Cork University Maternity Hospital; University Hospital Waterford, University Hospital Kerry, Mercy University Hospital, South Tipperary General Hospital, South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, Bantry General Hospital, Mallow General Hospital and the Lourdes Orthopaedic Hospital Kilcreene.

There were 123 reported assaults in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group. That covers St James and Tallaght Hospitals in Dublin, the St Luke's Radiation Oncology Network, the Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore, Naas General Hospital, the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise and The Coombe maternity hospital.

In the University of Limerick Midwest Hospital Group, 121 staff suffered attacks.

That group includes University Hospital Limerick, University Maternity Hospital Limerick, Ennis Hospital, Nenagh Hospital, and Croom Hospital.