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Conflict management training cuts violent attacks on staff

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Providing nurses with just a week’s training on conflict management can improve their safety, evidence has suggested.

The latest data from a Hertfordshire mental health trust runs counter to official figures published last week that show a rise in physical assaults on NHS staff in England.

According to the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service Division, 55,993 NHS staff were physically assaulted in England in 2007–2008 – 284 more than the previous year.

The RCN described it as ‘completely unacceptable’, while Unison called for tougher action against those who commit violence against NHS staff.

But giving specialist conflict management training at Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has helped to significantly reduce physical assaults on staff. A training initiative has seen the number of assaults on staff cut by one-third in 12 months, from 381 in 2006–2007 to 268 in 2007–2008.

All frontline clinical staff undertake a five-day, mandatory training course in managing violence and aggression. They are taught strategies for crisis intervention and prevention, de-escalation techniques – such as how to use eye contact and body language to diffuse a situation – and how to manage people with behavioural disturbances.

‘We teach staff to be aware of their body language and how to deal with a problem in the early stages,’ said Simon White, lead for managing violence and aggression at the trust.

‘It is about being able to recognise and manage aggression before the situation escalates to the point where a service user needs to be physically restrained.’

The trust actively identifies potentially stressful situations – such as service users not being allowed to smoke – and puts measures in place to counteract these. It also carries out a systematic review every time a violent incident occurs.

According to the Health and Safety Executive’s reporting scheme, 60 nurses sustained major injuries because of violence and 612 reported injuries requiring more than three days’ sickness absence in 2007. Among HCAs and nursing auxiliaries, there were 49 major injuries and 452 requiring more than three days’ absence.

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