More and more NHS employees face violence in the workplace, as reported by a new survey carried out by NHS Protect – the department which identifies and tackles crime across the health service.
Overall, there were 59,744 assaults in 2011-12 – up 3.3% from the previous year. NHS Protect classed three out of four assaults as “involving medical factors” – meaning patients receiving treatment at the time whose conditions are regarded as contributing to their aggression. They include patients with mental health problems or learning disabilities, or people who were drunk. These assaults rose from 39,770 in 2010-11 to 46,265 last year – up 16%.
The number of attacks equates to one assault for every 47 NHS staff. Health Minister Dr Daniel Poulter described the situation as “outrageous”.
Last week, we blogged about UNISON’s recent survey where it was reported that 70% of Health Assistants in the NHS had been the victim of aggression at work. Worryingly, 40% of staff had contemplated leaving the profession over the past year. Clearly, with statistics shown in UNISON’s and NHS Protect’s reports, staff morale is a worrying issue for the health service.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said it was “a matter of grave concern” to the nurses’ union that assaults were becoming more common. This statement is backed up by the UNISON’s Head of Health, Christina McAnea.
McAnea said: “When four in ten HCAs are considering leaving the profession, something is very wrong. This demonstrates the real impact of Government cuts – demoralised staff who are trying to deliver the best possible care they can in ever more difficult circumstances.”
Dr Carter pleaded with NHS employers to do more. NHS Protect measures to safeguard staff, using the threats of prosecution and providing personal alarms for lone working staff… something which has increased as the sector has faced spending cuts. It’s probably no co-incidence that with more staff working alone comes the increased threat of violence. With no immediate backup at hand, NHS employees are finding themselves in situations that are – for want of a better word – ‘uncomfortable’. Is it a fact that perpetrators see a lone worker as an easy target for violence?
“We are particularly concerned that this increase could be due to increasing waiting times, reduced staffing levels and a growing level of frustration as the NHS struggles to cope.” Dr Carter added.
What are NHS Protect doing to combat this worrying increase in violence?
Last year, NHS Protect signed a three-way agreement with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Crown Prosecution Service to curb violence and anti-social behaviour in the NHS. The Joint Working Agreement aims to promote and support local arrangements and seek to implement best practice.
Richard Hampton, Head of Local Support and Development Services at NHS Protect, said: “The agreement ensures that the commitment made at the top of our three organisations is put into practice locally, so that we act together to support NHS staff, who have a right to a safe and secure working environment. Violence and abuse against them is highly disruptive for the delivery of treatment to patients and cannot be tolerated.”
The government also plans to amend the NHS constitution so that patients who abuse or are violent to staff can be denied treatment as long as it is medically safe to do so.
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