Physical attacks on nurses and other staff working in NHS acute services have gone up by nearly 10% in the past year, rising to more than 19,000, according to official figures.
The statistics show nurses and others have become the “punch bag” of an “overwhelmed” hospital system, it has been claimed.
Official figures for England from NHS Protect – the body responsible for tackling crime in the NHS – show there were almost 19,200 physical assaults in hospitals in 2014-15.
This represents an increase of more than 7% – around 1,270 extra attacks – compared to the previous year.
However, the overall number of assaults across all NHS settings has slightly declined from 68,683 last year to 67,864 in 2014-15.
This was due to a 4% reduction in the number of attacks that were related to medical factors – representing around 2,000 fewer assaults – in combination with an increase in the number of assaults not linked to medical reasons, by an extra 1,300.
Mental health services saw a drop, although this is still the setting where the majority of attacks take place. There were around 47,200 attacks in 2013-14, down to 45,200 this year.
However, criminal sanctions following reported assaults increased only slightly in 2014-15, to 1,679 from 1,649 last year.
“There is no room for complacency after this small reduction in reported assaults”
Commenting on the figures, the Royal College of Nursing said the increase in acute settings indicated the “enormous pressures” hospitals were facing.
“With increasing waiting times, rising frustration and the chaos of understaffed and busy wards, staff are too often the punch bag for a care system on the point of being overwhelmed,” said Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary.
“It’s also a vicious cycle – with morale undermined, difficulty recruiting and staff off sick, patient care can be damaged and delayed,” she added.
Richard Hampton, head of external engagement and services at NHS Protect, said: “While it is encouraging to see the total figure going in the right direction there is no room for complacency after this small reduction in reported assaults.”
He urged all health bodies to ensure criminal assaults “are identified and do not go unpunished” by making local arrangements based on national agreement with the police and Crown Prosecution Service.