As the Deputy is aware, each employer in the health service owes a duty of care to all their employees, to provide a safe working environment, minimising the risk of assault. In this regard, health service employers are constantly reviewing the systems for the management and control of violence in the workplace. For example, systematic training for staff in control and restraint techniques, in addition to breakaway techniques, is now a feature of training for relevant health service staff.
Nursing hospital watch initiatives are now in place in hospitals around the country. Such initiatives have had a considerable effect on reducing the number of incidents, in accident and emergency departments in particular, while hospital management are continuing to monitor and seek improvements in the standard of staff and patient safety.
A special scheme exists for staff who are absent from work as a result of a serious physical assault by a patient or client incurred in the course of their duty. This scheme provides for full pay inclusive of premium earnings for a defined period. There is also a strong commitment towards staff rehabilitation in order to facilitate the staff member to return to work as soon as possible.
The Deputy may also wish to note that my Department has funded the committee on workplace violence in the North Eastern Health Board, which is representative of all stakeholders and services, to conduct a study into, and develop a plan for, the management of aggression and violence in the health care setting. This committee has recently conducted the first largescale methodologically rigorous study investigating aggression and violence in Irish health care, entitled the Survey of Violence Experienced by Staff — SOVES. Initial findings of the study indicate that the extent of the problem in Ireland is very similar to that which has been consistently reported internationally. The report of the findings of the SOVES study will be launched in the next few months.
In addition, the Health Service Employer's Agency is currently in the process of finalising guidelines on an occupational health safety and welfare service for the health service, in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority. The production of these guidelines and the establishment of an implementation plan for them are specified actions in the action plan for people management, launched in October 2002, the implementation of which is being monitored by my Department on an ongoing basis.