New figures from NHS Protect show that attacks on health service staff in England have risen sharply by over 2,500 in the past year, with more than 70,000 assaults reported overall.
During the financial year 2015-16, there were a total of 70,555 physical assaults on NHS staff reported, of which 1,740 resulted in criminal sanctions.
“It is likely that the reported assaults are just scratching the surface of the problem”
When broken down by sector, the NHS Protect data shows that 20,018 assaults took place in the acute sector, 46,107 in mental health settings and 2,130 in community settings.
This compares to data for 2014-15, where there were 67,864 physical assaults reported on staff, with 1,679 leading to a criminal sanction, giving an overall increase of 2,691.
Among the acutes, five reported over 300 assaults on staff in 2015-16 – Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, and Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Levels were higher in the mental health sector, with Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust both reporting more than 3,000 assaults. A further eight mental providers recorded over 1,000 assaults during the year.
In contrast, the highest reporters in the community sector, at around the 300 mark, were Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust – which also provides mental health services that influence its figures – and Plymouth Community Healthcare.
The Royal College of Nursing described it a “unacceptable” that going to work brought the threat of “violence and danger”.
However, the college suggested that the increase might be a “symptom” of patient and family frustration and aggression, as care was delayed and staff tried to cope under difficult circumstances.
NHS staff face ‘tinderbox’ of frustration and aggression
Chris Cox, the RCN’s director of membership relations, said: “With longer waits and the pressures of understaffed units, the atmosphere can become a tinderbox.
He said: “Violence often has a lasting impact with threats and assaults leading to traumatised staff who need time off, or leave the profession – wards become still more short-staffed and patient care suffers.
“It is likely that the reported assaults are just scratching the surface of the problem, with many not being reported because staff don’t believe that action will be taken,” he said.
“The government needs to take action now and introduce a national programme to tackle violence head-on before this issue spirals out of control,” he added.