THERE has been a 5% drop in the number of reported attacks on NHS staff, according to latest figures.
Data from the NHS Security Management Service, published last week, revealed that the number of reported attacks in 2006–2007 was 55,709 compared with the 58,695 recorded in 2005–2006.
But a government failure to prosecute people who make attacks on NHS staff has been condemned by nurse unions.
There were 869 criminal sanctions against people who had assaulted NHS staff in 2006–2007, just 19 more than the 850 prosecutions in the previous year, the data showed.
The total number of prosecutions represents fewer than 2% of the 55,709 physical assaults recorded against NHS staff in England.
‘We’re very concerned about the prosecution levels – 2% is appallingly low,’ said Kim Sunley, RCN senior employment relations adviser.
She said part of the problem seemed to be hesitancy by the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute patients.
‘We’ve been anecdotally told by members that, when there’s a clinical issue involved, the CPS has backed off,’ Ms Sunley said. ‘I think there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done with the CPS.’
Breakdown of the data showed fewer assaults in both primary care and acute trusts last year. Attacks against mental health and learning disability staff, which make up three-quarters of the overall number, rose marginally.
Peter Atkinson, vice chairperson of Unison’s national nursing committee, blamed the 0.5% rise in attacks in mental health care settings on better reporting and a higher proportion of acutely ill people on acute wards.
‘People are being kept in the community for longer, so when they come into inpatient settings they tend to be more challenging,’ he said.
Unison is calling for a national system to record all assaults on staff and a more robust CPS policy on prosecutions.