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December 4, 2009

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Healthcare group- Britain’s battered health service

They work to help us recover from illness and injury, but health-care sector workers are being subjected to daily instances of violence and aggression, the IOSH Healthcare Group was told at their latest networking seminar, held at the COSLA Centre in Edinburgh.

Dr Ingrid Clayden, the director of health workforce at the Scottish Government, said that the latest survey had shown that around 18 per cent of staff in NHS Scotland had experienced violence in their workplace: “That’s far too many. Those in health-care do an essential role and there are too many people who think it’s acceptable to assault and abuse health-care workers.” She said that the Scottish Government was looking at a coordinated approach to tackle the problem and that part of that was tougher sentencing for perpetrators: “Since 2008 emergency workers have been protected and you can now get a 12-month prison sentence for abuse or violence against an emergency worker.”

The full horror of the violence shown to ambulance workers was brought home powerfully by the Scottish Ambulance Services paramedic Lyn Sutherland, who was brutally assaulted by someone she’d been called out to help after he’d overdosed on painkillers.

“He punched me in the face and this ended up seeming the longest 20-25 minutes of my life. This man kicked, punched, twisted, spat at, wrestled and dragged me all around the room. It took four police officers, myself and my colleague to get this man under control. That was in 2005, and I’m still recovering from my injuries. I went back to the station and tried to complete the paperwork, but I couldn’t, my arm was just hanging and I was struggling to breathe. The doctor told me I’d fractured my arm, bruised my rib and jaw, and I had swelling and tenderness to my shoulder.”

For Lyn, although the pain may have reduced — she still had to have surgery on her shoulder in 2008 — it was the mental injuries that really scarred her: “I didn’t know who I was. I went from somebody who really wasn’t bothered by much and now I wouldn’t go out. I’d go to Tesco at 4am in the morning because no one else was around. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and it took a very long time to recover. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Despite her experience, Lyn still works as a paramedic despite the daily violence and aggression she faces because “I love my job”.

Kenneth Fleming, health and safety manager at the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Trust, said that in his Trust there are around 12,000 violent and aggressive incidents each year. He added that, despite throwing lots of money at the problem, “we’re not going to get lots of money to throw at it for the foreseeable future. That sort of money has dried up.”

He continued: “About 28 per cent of all our incidents are violence and aggression-related, although I’m still concerned about the amount of under-reporting there is. In Greater Glasgow and Clyde we had 19 RIDDORs and we lost 33 days per RIDDOR on average.”

Dr Brodie Paterson, from Stirling University, advised: “If I was writing a health and safety policy right now, I would include violence and aggression as an issue because it’s something that affects workplaces generally. There’s a significant issue with violence in the workplace in this country.”

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