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Unions blame pressure for rise in attacks on NHS staff


Nurses and other NHS staff in England are facing an increase in violence, according to latest figures.

Overall, there was a rise of 5.8% in total reported assaults from 59,744 in 2011-12 to 63,199 in 2012-13, according to the data published by NHS Protect.

Meanwhile, the number of criminal sanctions following reported assaults increased by 201, from 1,257 to 1,458 – a rise of 15.9%.

The figures cover reported physical assaults against NHS staff in England and were collated from 341 health bodies across the country.

Richard Hampton, head of local support and development services at NHS Protect, called on trusts to take “firm action” in all cases of assault against NHS staff.

“We urge all NHS staff to report assault and acts of violence against them. Employers must do all they can to support staff in preventing incidents and pursuing offenders,” he said.

NHS Protect noted that new guidance is to be launched shortly, with the aim of providing staff with the tools to “de-escalate and reduce challenging behaviour within the NHS”.

Unison described the rise in attacks as “unacceptable”. Christina McAnea, the union’s head of health, said: “Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg as violence on NHS premises remains an under-reported problem.

“We’re pleased that more people are being prosecuted for assaulting staff but much more still needs to be done to ensure the NHS provides a safe working environment,” she added.

Ms McAnea suggested pressure on services was causing “growing patient frustration”.

The Royal College of Nursing raised the same issue. Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “We are concerned that frontline staff may be at greater risk because of additional pressures on services, leading to a growing level of frustration from some patients.

“If employers fail to provide a safe working environment for their staff it simply increases these pressures and this is bad for staff, bad for patient care and bad for the NHS.”

He added: “There are instances where these assaults or aggressive behaviour are related to a clinical condition, however employers must do more to prevent incidents.”

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Readers' comments (7)

  • Enforce zero tolerance policies, then watch the rates of violence drop. Enough is enough.

    At my last training on de-escalation, dealing with aggression, etc., our trainer challenged a nurse who was half his height and weight to behave in the way patients and visitors do when they are being aggressive. Within 2 seconds, she had her hands around his throat and he was horrified. His open stance, positive body language and attempt to communicate in a calm, "reducing challenging behaviour" kind of way was utterly blown out of the water. He should have brought the session to an end at that moment, because he had completely lost credibility.

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  • More prosecutions are required. Too many know that they can get away with using NHS staff like punchbags.

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  • Has there been an increase or is this yet another sign that large parts of the nursing workforce is disengaged and things they would once have tolerated are now reported? Should we not expect increases in reporting of these incidents because of the increase of patients reporting poor nursing care?

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  • 12.49

    Absolutely right, I have attended similar such training events which teach you break-away techniques that you instantly forget. If trusts were really interested in the safety of their staff they pay for personal attack alarms and would push for convictions for those who are abusive; in my experience they do neither.


    I think it's a bit of both: nurses are much more likely to report abuse, but in my experience patients and their relatives are much more likely to 'kick-off' as society in general has lost its restraint and now feel it acceptable to gesticulate and abuse anyone they see in a position of authority.

    Kicking-off often works in a positive way in that patients are often appeased so we do ourselves no favours which I think compounds and reinforces these negative behaviours.

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  • I'm all in favour of punishment really fitting the crime. The police and fire service managers and unions do not tolerate attacks on their members and employees, they ensure that the law is fully enforced.

    Why on earth do Nurses have to tolerate such aggressive and unjustified behaviour from a patient's relatives or friends?

    Patients themselves may often have some form of excuse, through their; presenting condition, confusion, fear, pain or drugs, but there is no reason for the mayhem caused and assaults which are witnessed regularly in any A&E dept or ward area up and down this land.

    It is time NHS management took a stance and protected their employees by demanding and indeed pressing for maximum sentences to be delivered by our plainly ineffectual system of justice.

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  • Roger Hodgson | 3-Dec-2013 5:44 pm

    "Patients themselves may often have some form of excuse, through their; presenting condition, confusion, fear, pain or drugs, but there is no reason for the mayhem caused and assaults which are witnessed regularly in any A&E dept or ward area up and down this land."

    I think that this is very much the point. Most of us already have the 'tools' and training in de-escalation techniques. However, there are situations where these are of no use whatsoever. Sometimes people need to be arrested and prosecuted. Simple. Staff need to be protected and supported, and unacceptable behaviour towards NHS staff no longer tolerated.

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  • It's not just physical attacks though is it? It's the constant psychological pounding from the government and the press too!

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