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November 30, 2010

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Acute health-care sector bears brunt of rise in assaults

The total number of assaults against health-care staff has risen significantly in the past year, with attacks against acute-sector workers rocketing by almost 20 per cent.

New statistics released by the NHS Security Management Service (NHS SMS) reveal that the total number of assaults against NHS staff rose by 3.6 per cent – from 54,758 to 56,718 – between 2008/09 and 2009/10.

The rise was, however, matched by a similar percentage increase in the quota of staff, with the total workforce as of 31 March this year increasing to 1,278,071 from last year’s total of 1,233,577. It meant that the actual rate of assaults per 1000 staff, according to health-body declarations, remained constant, at 44.4 per cent.

Nevertheless, figures in the acute health-care sector are likely to be a source of alarm, after the total number of assaults against workers in this field shot up from 11,088 in 2008/09 to 13,219 in 2009/10. Although this sector also experienced a rise in workforce numbers, the increase was a mere 3.4 per cent.

Assaults also increased in the ambulance sector, but the rise from 1240 in 2008/09 to 1262 in 2009/10 was small compared with a greater percentage rise in the sector’s workforce.

The statistics also reveal an increase in the number of criminal sanctions imposed following violent incidents. Declared sanctions rose from 941 in 2008/09 to 1128 in 2009/10.

Karen Jennings, head of health at trade union Unison, described the rising level of assaults on NHS staff as an “absolute disgrace”. She said: “These statistics on violence make sad and shocking reading. Nurses, paramedics and other health workers should not have to go into work fearing that they may be at risk of attack.

“It is appalling that some members of the public see NHS staff as soft targets for assault.”

Despite the increase in the number of sanctions taken in response to assaults, she underlined the need for “tougher legal action” against people found guilty of such an offence.

The union conceded that there has been some success in terms of better reporting of assaults. A spokesperson for the NHS SMS also confirmed to SHP that the rise in the number of reported incidents “may be down to the fact that our message is getting through to staff, in that: ‘if you have been assaulted, please report it’”.

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