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Increase in attacks on 'punch bag' hospital nurses


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.

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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”

Richard Hampton

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.


Readers' comments (6)

  • At what point has political correctness legitimised assaults in terms of a patient prognosis, cost & fear of patient human rights backlash? At what point do the police turn a blind eye because of potential glib say so of some medical clinicians/ services & over demand on police services? How well do incident tools recognise seriousness of assaults? Defensive service reputation or staff/ patient serious injury or deaths? Does anyone care?

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  • Years ago, working in a GU clinic I was pinned against a wall by a man built like a 6ft brick whatsit. I was not allowed to phone police or security as it would be 'breaching his confidentiality', however I was told by the consultant that had he hit me I would have been OK to hit him back. Yay that's good- I'm female, 5'2 and weighed about 8 stones at the time-if he'd hit me I wouldn't have woken up until a couple of weeks later.
    One matron I worked with refused to put the 'Zero tolerance' posters up as she said 'What's the point when management don't do anything? We just end up looking stupid when they trot out the 'anxiety' excuse'

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  • 6:59PM BINGO - I wouldn't be surprised if there were more stories like this. If you'd been a member of the public, consultant or senior manager just imagine what the outcry might be. It is sickening and disturbing that some lives are regarded as more equal than others.

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  • Even anonymously there is still a culture of blame and fear in the NHS

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  • Nicholas Rowsell

    No. It really is a joke. I was assaulted though not seriously on a mental health ward. I duly reported it to the police and an officer came to interview me.
    That was the end if it. I never hearf from them again. No prosecution. No feedback. Nothing. Zilch.
    Very disappointing. So that's how I'm valued?
    Next time I'm going to complain to the Police Complaints Authority and see if that wakes them up.

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  • A care system gone loco. Heaven forbid you protect yourself Nicholas. Correlations should be made between decrease in physical intervention and increase in assaults particularly in mental health. And yes this is essential to safer staffing. The question is to whether the relationship between police and services are being used in such a way to prevent reporting, appropriate action and protect reputation. The increased focus on patient as customer only leads to deletion of staff bad experience, increased psychological abuse by service and increase propensity of staff being maligned as at error. Let me put it this way if your'e not a patient your not a statistic worth noting and if not worth noting then welcome to the methodology of conveyor belt working my friendy. Sorry for your experience Nicholas but much respect for you for saying what we're all thinking.

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