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July 8, 2009

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Committee laments lack of urgency on tackling violence

An inquiry has reported limited progress in reducing violence and aggression against Welsh NHS workers.

The Welsh Assembly’s Audit Committee report, Protecting NHS Staff from Violence and Aggression, says that although there have been some steps forward since it last reported in 2006, not enough is being done to protect nurses, doctors and support staff in hospitals and surgeries throughout Wales.

The report expresses concern over under-reporting of violent incidents, which occurs in part because many workers feel no action is likely to be taken when they do come forward, or because individuals regularly confronted by violence come to accept it as part of the job. Under-reporting could also explain why the number of incidents of serious violence across the NHS in 2008-09 had apparently fallen to 6950 from 7800 in 2007-08.

 While welcoming advances that have been made in the collection of data on incidents, the Committee urged further action on employee training. Key issues that require attention are the release of staff from their duties to undergo training, and a lack of information on which employees would benefit from this. According to the report, “the magnitude of the need ought to make [training] a priority”, and suggests e-learning as a possible option.

The Committee adds that trusts also need to do more to invest in technology, such as better quality CCTV. The risks faced by lone workers, such as community midwives and district nurses, are a further area of disappointment highlighted by the report, which calls for a tracking system to be implemented in Wales.

The report states: “Action to move things forward seems very half-hearted. Preventing and controlling violent incidents must be seen by the NHS as a priority.”
Committee chair Jonathan Morgan said: “There has been a general lack of urgency given to this important issue. It was disappointing that the main response from health management seemed to be that this would all be fine in October, following NHS reorganisation.”

Dave Galligan, head of health in Wales for the trade union Unison, welcomed “anything that would take the issue forward”. He said: “Assaults on NHS staff are a very serious problem. There has been a lot of talk about this, but progress has been very slow. The absence of prosecutions is a critical factor.” He added that much of the violence in the NHS is fuelled by drink or drugs, but did not call for new legislation.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council had announced in February last year that physical attacks on victims working in the public sector would result in severe sentences, saying that offenders who inflicted particularly grave injuries should be sentenced to between 10 and 16 years in prison.

But Galligan responded: “It’s not about guidelines, it’s not about sentencing, it’s about people seeing existing legislation used properly.”

Attacks on staff cost the NHS an estimated £100m each year.

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