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New strategy pledges ‘stronger protection’ from violence for NHS staff

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The government has today launched a new NHS violence reduction strategy, which includes measures designed to better protect staff and prosecute offenders more easily.

It aims to protect the NHS workforce against “deliberate violence and aggression” from patients, their families and the public, and to ensure offenders are “punished quickly and effectively”.

“I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work”

Matt Hancock

Under the strategy, the NHS will work with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to help victims give evidence and get prosecutions in the quickest and most efficient way.

In addition, the Care Quality Commission will assess violence as part of its inspection regime and identify trusts that need further support

There will also be improved training for staff to deal with violence, including circumstances involving patients with dementia or mental illness, and there will be “prompt” mental health support for staff who have been victims of violence.

The NHS violence reduction strategy was unveiled today by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock in a speech at the Royal College of Nursing in London.

Matthew Hancock

Matthew Hancock

Matthew Hancock

It represents the latest move to try and tackle the long-standing problem of how to give more protection to NHS staff while they go about their job.

The last NHS staff survey showed that more than 15% of NHS staff have experienced violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the last 12 months – the highest figure for five years.

Meanwhile, to understand the reasons behind the rise in reported violence, the strategy will allow staff to more easily record assaults and other incidents of abuse or harassment.

The government said trusts would be expected to ensure every incident was investigated in full and any lessons used to protect staff from future incidents.

It highlighted that it was also drawing up plans for violence and abuse data from across the NHS to be reported nationally.

This move should allow the government and NHS England to determine which staff are most vulnerable to violence and allow for appropriate action to be taken, it said.

The new plans follow the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which was recently brought into law and will see the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker double from six months to a year.

Mr Hancock said: “NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable.

“I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that,” he said.

sara gorton for index

sara gorton for index

Sara Gorton

He added: “We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system.”

Sara Gorton, Unison head of health and chair of the staff side social partnership forum, said: “NHS staff spend their working days caring and saving lives, and their safety should be paramount.

“No one should be abused, threatened or attacked at work ‒ especially when all they’re trying to do is help people,” noted Ms Gorton.

“It is encouraging that the government has listened to unions and agreed to review measures in place to ensure staff safety,” she said. “This includes a more joined-up approach between the NHS, police and CPS.

“Anyone who threatens or abuses NHS staff should be prosecuted under the new law protecting health care workers,” she added.

“Part of the solution must also be ensuring adequate staffing levels to reduce the risk to our people”

Sean Duggan

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “This is a welcome intervention from the government.

“All NHS workers should feel able to perform their vital jobs without the fear of violence which we know is more prevalent in mental health settings,” he said.

He noted that more than a fifth of staff in mental health trusts had experienced violence at work from a patient, service user, relative or member of the public in the last 12 months.

Mr Duggan highlighted that trusts were already doing “some great work to reduce violence against staff”.

Sean Duggan

Sean Duggan

Sean Duggan

For example, he cited the “quality improvement approach” at East London NHS Foundation Trust, which saw violence reduced by over 40% in its adult mental health inpatient wards and by 60% at its acute inpatients wards.

According to Mr Duggan, “scaling up this approach” across the trust has seen a 42% reduction in incidents of physical violence since 2013.

“Today’s announcement has the potential to turbocharge efforts such as these across the country,” he stated.

“The secretary of state is right to recognise the different causes of violence against staff working in our NHS, and that they need different solutions,” he said.

“Part of the solution must also be ensuring adequate staffing levels to reduce the risk to our people,” he added.

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