The NHS and partners “must do better” when it comes to tackling violence against staff, according to health minister Stephen Hammond who said every incident must be properly investigated.
Speaking at a conference on the new NHS Violence Reduction Strategy, he warned the health service risked losing staff due to safety fears.
“If we don’t embed this culture change we will fail to attract or retain excellent staff”
He also made it clear NHS organisations locally needed to put time and “sufficient resources” into protecting and supporting their workforce.
The Violence Reduction Strategy announced in October last year promised better training for staff to help them deal with violent incidents and more support for victims to give evidence and secure prosecutions.
Trusts’ efforts to tackle violence would be looked at as part of inspections and support would be offered to those that needed help to reduce the risk to employees.
Meanwhile, the long-term plan for the NHS in England – published at the start of this year - also promised a “redoubling” of efforts to address violence, bullying and harassment with up to £2m a year to be invested in violence reduction programmes from 2019-20.
The plan also promised a further £8m to pilot the use of body cameras by paramedics with about a third of ambulance staff reporting they had been victims of violence in the past year.
The 2018 NHS Staff Survey showed violence against staff had reached its lowest level for five years. Nevertheless, 14.5% of staff said they had experienced at least one attack in the last 12 months by patients, service users, relatives or other members of the public.
The survey revealed higher than average rates of attacks against LGBTQ+ staff with more than 20% identifying as gay or bisexual reporting being victims of violence in the last year.
Despite the decrease in reports of violence, Mr Hammond stressed there was no room for “complacency” and said the NHS and other organisations needed to work together to ensure all employees were treated with respect and able to carry out their duties without fear of violence or abuse.
“Investigating every incident of violence and abuse against staff is essential”
“We will only do this through our collective endeavour, a broad coalition of NHS organisations, care services, national government, local authorities and the judiciary,” he told the conference at Lord’s cricket ground in London.
“By taking decisive action against those who attack and abuse others and creating environments where safety and respect win out over intimidation and violence, we can make sure every NHS member of staff is protected, supported and valued,” he said.
Progress was being made but “we can and must do better”, he added. “Complacency is always the enemy of change,” he said.
He confirmed the forthcoming Workforce Implementation Plan would include £2m for programmes to reduce violence, bullying and harassment.
He also went on to stress the importance of taking action to tackle violence at a local – as well as national – level.
“Investigating every incident of violence and abuse against staff is essential if we are to reduce the frequency of future incidents. NHS organisations must commit sufficient resources to get this right,” he said.
He said it was important staff who had suffered a verbal or physical assault got “the support, empathy and understanding they need”.
“They deserve your time,” he told the audience of NHS leaders and managers.
If NHS organisations did not take steps to reduce violence and improve appropriate support, then they risked losing people, he warned.
“If we don’t embed this culture change we will fail to attract or retain excellent staff who either fear frequent abuse or have lost confidence in processes which should support and protect them from harm,” said Mr Hammond.
“More prosecutions would send out a message that abuse is not tolerated”
Health unions welcomed the renewed commitment to tackling violence and abuse but called for more action.
“Tackling the shocking level of violence against health staff requires more than just warm words,” said Unison head of health Sara Gorton.
“Last year’s commitments to reduce harm to staff were welcome, but several months on we are still waiting for details of a comprehensive strategy,” she added.
She said there was a need for more data to understand the problem and potential solutions.
“Understanding what works must start with comprehensive figures, rather than one question on a staff survey, to use as a baseline for recording abuse and measuring progress,” she said.
Meanwhile, she said the union was not convinced body-worn cameras were the answer to attacks on ambulance staff.
“More prosecutions would send out a message that abuse is not tolerated and increased NHS investment in staff would make attacks less likely,” she said.
Earlier this month, a patient who assaulted a nurse while being cared for in the emergency department at Hull Royal Infirmary was prosecuted under a new law designed to protect NHS staff.