A survey carried out by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has found that 60% of doctors have experienced or witnessed verbal or physical abuse from patients, or relatives of patients, within the past 12 months.
The survey of almost 900 doctors found that staff shortages and waiting lists were the main reasons behind the incidents of abuse.
MPS, which provides insurance for medical professionals, called on the Government, gardaí, and HSE employers to take "every possible step" to address the issue.
The survey found that, in just over a quarter of cases, the experience of increased abuse had made doctors reconsider their career in healthcare.
A quarter of doctors also felt that abuse against healthcare professionals was not taken seriously by the gardaí.
Dr James Thorpe (deputy medical director at MPS) said that, while long referral waiting lists and staff shortages understandably caused stress to patients and families, healthcare professionals were doing their best under challenging circumstances.
“While most patients are respectful, it is troubling that so many healthcare workers face aggression and intimidation,” he stated.
Dr Thorpe added that healthcare professionals working in all areas of the system must feel that their safety is a priority, and be encouraged to report all abusive behaviour.
MPS called for healthcare settings to provide an appropriate forum for doctors could talk about such abuse and seek “appropriate wellbeing support”.
Dr Thorpe also urged the gardaí to consider how they could support healthcare settings, by encouraging reporting of abuse, and better communicating to the public the consequences of abuse.
“More broadly, there is a need for research to ascertain the additional training needs for HSE staff for dealing with conflict and protecting themselves from violence,” he said.
“Failure to act may result in the loss of many more skilled and dedicated staff at a time when the profession can least afford it," he concluded.