Nurses’ dossier of violence lifts lid on our angry, selfish society

Our lack of patience and our irritation and aggression in the face of any obstruction has become a major societal problem, says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Nurses’ dossier of violence lifts lid on our angry, selfish society

FACING AGGRESSION: Nurse Sylvia Chambers leaves a Joint Health Committee meeting to discuss the welfare and safety of workers and patients in the public health service at Leinster House, Dublin, this week. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

ARE we proud of ourselves now?

Ten times a day we assault a nurse in our hospitals. Our misogyny, impatience, rage and sense of entitlement has resulted in almost 6,000 assaults on nurses (most of whom, of course, are female) between January, 2021, and October, 2022, according to the INMO this week.

And that’s only the assaults that were actually reported.

We’re not talking here about inner-city hospitals in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of some of the most violent cities in the United States like Birmingham, Memphis or Detroit – yes, there’s a list. Nope, we’re talking about Irish hospitals where nurses are being shouted at, spat at, have things thrown at them and even been threatened with stabbing.

A children’s nurse, Sylvia Chambers, who works at a busy Dublin hospital, told an Oireachtas committee that she has never experienced aggression the like of what staff have seen in the past few years, and on a daily basis.

Recent months have seen several high-profile attacks on gardaí. Irish Rail personnel are weary of highlighting the incredible physical and verbal abuse they receive from passengers. There have been stories of parents walking into Irish classrooms and shouting at or even threatening teachers in front of students.

Reports of attacks on nurses are nothing new, but the INMO report this week of 5,593 reported assaults against nursing and midwifery staff between January, 2021, and October, 2022, and the testimony of Ms Chambers necessitates a pause for thought.

And that number only reflects the reported assaults according to the organisation - which says many nurses and midwives don’t report incidents of assault.

The HSE does not come out particularly well from these reports of ongoing abuse of its staff. Although HSE workers reported nearly 4,800 workplace-related physical verbal and sexual assaults in 2021, fewer than 450 investigations and inspections took place.

During the pandemic lockdowns, the bad behaviour of the general public – and, let’s face it, as everyone from book-shop owners to hotel staff and people running charity shops will tell you, it was often rude, childish and disgraceful - was attributed to frustration as a result of the restrictions.

But the pandemic’s over. Lockdown is long over. We can’t blame Covid-19 anymore for the complex mix of misogyny, impatience, rage and sense of entitlement which is behind a lot of these shenanigans.

Because whether we’re abusing nurses, transport employees, gardaí, teachers or someone else who has the misfortune to have to deal with us without the protection of a thick wall of Plexiglas, there’s a reason which usually lies within ourselves.

Pick your excuse - a really big one is misogyny (your average nurse is smaller, lighter and weaker than, for example, the six-foot-four-thugs who have towered over Sylvia Chambers, throwing things at her).

Aggressive men, big and small, feel empowered by taking on another human who they know is smaller, lighter and weaker than them – such as a woman. Female nurses, rail employees, gardaí or teachers.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. There’s something about the way we raise our men in this country (and, it must be said, in most others) that makes many of them comfortable with abusing, demeaning and threatening women.

Then there’s our impatience, which so quickly turns to rage and even violence towards anybody who impedes us or calls us to order.

How often have you experienced someone else’s road rage at an unforeseen delay, or seen a vehicle impatiently pushing out around a stationary SUV on the side of a narrow road right into the face of oncoming traffic?

Our lack of patience and our irritation and aggression in the face of any obstruction has become a major societal problem. It’s been linked, credibly enough, to the effect on our brains and nervous systems of the instant gratification we receive when we’re online.

Many of us have started to unconsciously assume that the real world should behave like Google and respond to our demands immediately. So, when we don’t immediately get what we want, either for ourselves or a family member in, say, a hospital, a shop or in a traffic delay, we start throwing all the toys out of the cot.

Suppose for example, you call a helpline or ask a question of a person behind a counter, any counter. If you don’t immediately understand the answer, you can literally time the seconds it takes for the paper-thin veneer of corporate courtesy to wear down into irritation, condescension and blatant impatience verging on rudeness.

Then there’s our sense of entitlement and our lack of respect for any kind of authority, something which is enabled and nurtured by the ‘gimme-now’ ‘I’m worth it’ culture we have created.

There’s the impact of an ingratiating nanny/welfare state whose lack of common-sense and good priorities is a matter of concern, and let’s not forget the snow-plough, helicopter, snowflake-rearing parenting styles which seem to have resulted in children who believe they’re entitled to obedience and respect from their parents and other adults - not the other way around. Hence a generation of entitled young ones who respect nobody and nothing.

We believe we’re entitled to happiness. We believe we’re entitled to immediate gratification, speed and excellent service at all times. We believe in our rights, not those of anybody else.

In fact, it could be said, we believe we’re entitled to exactly whatever it is we happen to desire at any given moment.

So, when you put all that into the mix, is it any wonder we as a society, have become so obnoxious? Is it any wonder we take the casual abuse of others as our due? We’re toxic.

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