The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has accused the Health Service Executive of failing to give adequate support to nurses, who are subjected to more assaults than any other health service grade.

Addressing the union's annual conference in Trim, General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha cited HSE figures showing that nurses were victims in almost 70% of total assaults on hospital staff over the last ten years, with over 7,500 incidents reported.

The HSE has previously stressed 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.

Delegate Noreen Quinn said that after experiencing a traumatic abuse by a patient, staff had to fill a number of forms, were asked whether they had done anything wrong, and questioned about what measures they had taken.

However, she asked what happened to all of that paperwork, and where was the emotional support for the trauma and stress.

She also asked who would look after the patients if nurses went sick because of unaddressed trauma or stress.

Delegate Rita O'Malley said the human instinct when attacked was fight or flight, but staff could not fight because they could lose their jobs.

She said they were often left to manage the situation of physical or verbal aggression, which could be witnessed by other patients or visitors.

She described a carousel of disruptive elderly patients being referred to GPs, then to geriatricians, and back to GPs.

She asked the INMO to put pressure on the HSE to increase short stay beds in dementia units with sufficient staff to assess their needs.

Delegates backed a motion calling on the HSE to provide greater support for staff and more focused contingency planning to prevent violence and aggression in older people services.