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UK near top of league table for nurse attacks

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Nurses in the UK face one of the highest rates of workplace violence in Europe, international research has revealed.

A study of almost 40,000 nurses, published in the journal Occupational Medicine, claimed 29% of UK nurses were subjected to violent episodes once a month or more. The UK rate was second only to France and was significantly higher than the 22% average recorded across 10 European countries included in the research. The lowest rates were reported in Norway and the Netherlands.

Nurses most at risk were those working in psychiatry, geriatrics and A&E. Other factors linked to high reporting of violent events were a lack of teamwork, uncertainty regarding patients’ treatments, working night shifts and increased time pressures.

The study authors also highlighted ongoing retention problems created by levels of violence: ‘Nurses who reported exposure to violence had higher levels of burn-out and reported more intention to either leave nursing or change employer.’

‘The staff are the greatest asset that the NHS has, and preventing physical and emotional injuries from violence and aggression is essential,’ added Dr Gordon Parker, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine.

Unison’s head of nursing, Gail Adams, said the UK should be ashamed of the figures. ‘Too many nurses are facing this in the course of their normal nursing duties – it’s completely unacceptable and the NHS needs to be more robust in supporting them,’ she said.

Cheryll Adams, Unite/CPHVA acting professional lead officer, said the findings were of huge concern and warned violence could also impact on nurse recruitment. ‘Unfortunately this won’t encourage youngsters into nursing careers. It’s not something you’d want to consider when you see figures such as these,’ she added.

A second study, published recently in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, suggested nearly half of all nursing students had experienced verbal abuse while on the ward (NT News, 26 February, p2).

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