Almost half of nursing staff based in the community have suffered abuse during the last two years, according to a recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing.
The survey of more than 1,300 nurses working in community-based roles, found 48% had been subject to some form of abuse.
“I was wary about visiting that patient because of the relative, but felt I had to”
Of those, 11% said this involved physical abuse or assault as well as verbal abuse.
Many who took part in the survey in May and June this year felt the risks attached to their role had increased in recent years due to a range of factors including rising caseloads and lack of staff.
Meanwhile, 50% of respondents said they felt vulnerable at work, with almost 10% feeling vulnerable some or all of the time.
However, just 22% said their managers always knew where they were when working alone.
The survey findings echo 2011 research by the RCN and Sheffield Hallam University, which highlighted similar issues around lone working.
Some nurses interviewed at the time reported that abuse was simply seen as part of their job by employers and they were forced to “grin and bear it”.
The latest poll also highlights a lack of support. Of nurses who suffered abuse in the past two years, 63% reported it but 45% of those who had raised the issue said no action had been taken to address it.
Almost half – 46% – said risk assessments were rarely or never carried out, and less than 4% said they always had information about the patients they were due to visit.
One survey respondent described being locked in when a family refused to let them leave.
“After the incident there was no follow-up with the family, no additional safety plan and it was down to me to visit again,” said the nurse.
Another described feeling unsupported after being verbally abused by a patient’s relative.
“I informed the office, but still had to visit and no further action was taken other than documenting it on patient notes,” said the nurse.
“I was wary about visiting that patient because of the relative, but felt I had to because I would have failed that patient by not giving them the treatment they required at home,” they added.
The survey found only a third of respondents – 34% – had received personal safety training and just 13% had access to a protection device that could raise the alarm if a nurse felt under threat.
“It is hard to give the best care when you go to work in fear”
Such devices – which were launched in 2009 – were initially government-funded but many staff reported they had been withdrawn to save money.
Lone working was among topics up for debate at the RCN Congress in Bournemouth this week.
RCN general secretary Peter Carter said the latest survey painted a disturbing picture.
“It is horrifying to hear of a worsening situation and one where people who go to work each day to care for people end up feeling alone, afraid and under attack,” he said.
“It is hard to give the best care when you go to work in fear and we really need all employers to take the safety of their staff seriously,” said the RCN leader, who steps down next month.
He said nursing staff should feel confident in raising concerns and be able to visit in pairs or have access to a safety device.
“Sadly, it seems the safety of staff is something that is subject to compromise when money is scare,” he said.
“This is an utterly false cost saving. Not only do staff often need time off following physical assault but the risk of stress and burnout is severe and can continue into long-term absence,” he added.