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November 14, 2011

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Rise in attacks on NHS workers labelled “a disgrace”

The union representing nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff has reacted angrily to new statistics on violence in the health sector in England, calling the increase in attacks on workers “a national disgrace”.

Unison has called for urgent action to address violence against NHS staff in the wake of figures from NHS Protect issued last week, which revealed a slight rise in the total number of physical assaults – up from 56,781 in 2009/10 to 57,830 in 2010/11.

Around 69 per cent of these assaults involved ‘medical factors’, i.e. the perpetrators suffered from mental-health issues, learning difficulties, or conditions such as dementia.

Unison’s head of health, Christina McAnea, said: “The increase in violence against nurses, paramedics, and other NHS staff in England is a national disgrace. The number of staff who have reported being attacked at work has gone up by more than 1000 – that is a staggering number, and there is likely to be many more assaults that have gone unreported.”

She continued: “Hospital managers must take urgent action to ensure that their staff are protected. It is no good saying that some of these assaults were the result of a patient’s medical condition; staff have a right to a safe working environment, and it is up to the employer to provide it by assessing risks and managing them.”

The figures also revealed that criminal sanctions taken against those who assault NHS staff rose significantly – from 1128 in 2009/10 to 1397 last year.

Richard Hampton, of NHS Protect, commented: “Staff committed to providing our national health service should never be expected to suffer violence at work and it will not be tolerated. NHS Protect urges employers to take firm action in all cases of assault against NHS staff.

Rightly, staff demand that their reports of violence are followed up. Tough action is being taken to ensure that all NHS organisations work better with local police and other agencies to clamp down on anyone who is aggressive and abusive to NHS staff.”

However, Christina McAnea said preventing assaults in the first place is key, “by ensuring adequate security, good staffing levels and safe ward design”.  She concluded: “We need closer working between employers, staff and security specialists to keep staff safe.”

Last week, a three-way agreement was signed between NHS Protect, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service to facilitate joint working to tackle violence in the NHS.

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