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January 9, 2012

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Employers urged to do more to protect lone-working nurses

More than 60 per cent of nurses working in the community have been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the past two years, according to new survey findings from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The findings, based on a questionnaire answered by 766 nurses – more than 10 per cent of the RCN’s full membership – revealed that 61 per cent of respondents spend more than half their time as a lone worker without immediate access to a colleague for support. Around 55 per cent of respondents worked outside normal working hours, and just 19 per cent stated that their employer always knew their whereabouts at work.

Just 18 per cent carried out a risk assessment on their first community visit, and 19 per cent conducted an assessment on every visit.

Six out of ten respondents said they had been verbally abused by a patient, client or member of the public in the last two years while at work, with 11 per cent having been subjected to physical assault.

In respect of verbal abuse, around half the respondents agreed, or strongly agreed that their employers would take action against individuals who attacked staff. A higher proportion (73 per cent) agreed, or strongly agreed that their employers would take action against patients, or clients who physically abuse staff.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter said: “While it is not surprising that respondents felt their employer would be more likely to take action as a result of physical rather than verbal abuse, it is still completely unacceptable that it should have to come to a nurse suffering physical violence before something is done.”

Most respondents (83 per cent) had received training in managing conflict or other lone-worker risks. However, only 36 per cent felt it effectively addressed the major risks they face in their jobs.

The RCN believes a lack of funding is not an excuse for ignoring the risks faced by lone-working nurses, and argues that a well-implemented policy, proper assessment of risks and an effective prevention strategy, including the use of specialist lone-worker alarm systems, are worthwhile investments.

Dr Carter concluded: “Nurses working alone in the community are vulnerable and are often without back-up, or immediate help close by. Out of sight should not mean out of mind. During these dark winter nights, I expect that many nurses may feel even more at risk and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

The lone-worker survey can be found at: www.rcn.org.uk/development/publications

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