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High nurse assault risk in elderly mental health

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Two-thirds of nurses on older people’s mental health wards have been physically attacked in the last 12 months, according to latest figures

The Healthcare Commission’s first ever national audit focusing specifically on violence in older people’s mental health services is due to be published later this month. Carried out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it draws on data from 215 NHS and independent sector mental health units in England and Wales.

Early results from the audit were included in the commission’s State of Healthcare report, published last week. It showed that 64% of nurses in older people’s mental health wards reported having been assaulted. A second audit on working-age adult mental health wards showed 46% of nurses had been assaulted.

NT has exclusively seen the full report on older people’s services, which also reveals 43% of nurses had no access to personal safety alarms, 45% of interview rooms lacked accessible alarms and sight lines were impeded in 69% of patient environments. A further 39% of nurses questioned said there were insufficient staffing levels and 50% added that gender mix was inappropriate.

One nurse said: ‘I expected to be assaulted on every shift I worked. I was punched frequently, kicked often. I was scratched, squeezed, jumped out on, hit with a fire extinguisher, had furniture thrown at me, including a wheelchair.’

Kim Sunley, RCN senior employment relations adviser, said: ‘These are particularly shocking figures. There are some underlying themes, such as staffing issues, wards being understaffed and a lack of training. Every trust now should have a local security management officer but we don’t think enough importance is being placed on these roles.’

Peter Atkinson, vice chairperson of Unison’s national nursing committee, added: ‘[The figures are] worryingly high and flag up the need for all staff to receive adequate training in better risk assessment and the prevention and management of violence.’

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