Violence against NHS staff is a growing phenomenon that last year reached its peak – one in seven NHS workers reported being attacked.
The latest shocking figures show that just over 15 percent of health service staff, the majority of whom were A&E doctors, nurses, paramedics and mental health personnel, said they had been assaulted in the last 12 months — the highest level in five years.
The situation has prompted health secretary Matt Hancock to announce a new initiative today (October 31) to combat the rising incidence of violence in the NHS, including a ‘zero tolerance’ approach that will see the health service working together with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to reduce assaults and carry out swift prosecutions.
“NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable,” Hancock said ahead of a speech today (October 31) to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as part of a summit on violence in the health service.
“I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that,” he noted.
“We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system.”
Under the new initiative, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will look at violence as part of its inspection regime, and will identify trusts that need further support in reducing violence. Staff who are victims of violence will be given prompt mental health support, and will likewise be given more training on dealing with violent situations.
In incidents of assault where prosecutions are not appropriate such as when perpetrators have dementia, brain injuries or mental health problems, trusts will be supported in giving staff better training and support.
Hancock highlighted in an interview this morning (October 31) that some health staff wear body cameras to both collect evidence in the event of an assault and to prevent assaults altogether – a practice which he said should be more widespread.
Hancock’s initiative follows legislation that was recently brought into law which increases the maximum prison sentence for assaults against emergency workers from six months to one year.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe called NHS staff “heroines and heroes” whose mission is “to serve and care for others”.
He said that “NHS workers do not deserve to be violated and assaulted in the workplace”, adding that the health department’s new initiative was a “step in the right direction in the campaign to eradicate violence against NHS workers”.
Jarrett-Thorpe criticised what he called “punitive” sickness absence policies that a handful of NHS trusts employ which are detrimental to those members of staff who are victims of assault.
“We have got to ensure that workers that suffer physical or psychological injury from violence at work are given the support to return to work,” he said. “Unite will work with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS employers for the success of the NHS violence reduction strategy.”
Unite national officer for health Jacalyn Williams agreed that the new initiative is “welcome” but added that “the proof of the pudding will be in the eating”.
“Unite will be monitoring the government’s actions against this growing and very unpleasant phenomenon that is blighting such areas as A&E departments to see it follows through with its new tough zero tolerance policy.”