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March 18, 2010

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Violence and abuse against NHS staff at record low

Levels of physical violence, bullying and harassment are now at the lowest they have ever been, according to the latest annual NHS staff survey.

The results, published yesterday (17 March) by the Care Quality Commission, reveal that fewer staff reported that they had experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from patients, or their relatives – down from 26 per cent in 2007 to 21 per cent in 2009.

Around one in six (17 per cent) had experienced bullying, harassment, or abuse from either their line manager, or colleagues – down from 18 per cent in 2007 and 2008. Nearly all staff (96 per cent) confirmed that either they or a colleague had reported the most recent near miss, or incident they had witnessed.

The survey also revealed that staff job satisfaction has never been higher – 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 – and staff engagement with their jobs is also high.

However, the survey also pointed to a culture of presenteeism, with many NHS staff feeling pressured to be at work when unwell. Several new questions on health and well-being were added into the 2009 survey in response to recommendations made in last year’s Boorman Review to allow trends and progress to be monitored.

Two thirds of staff reported that they had attended work in the previous three months when they felt unwell. Of those who had attended work, 91 per cent stated that they had put themselves under pressure to attend work; 28 per cent felt under pressure from their manager; and 21 per cent from other colleagues to attend.

The Boorman Review suggested that there are significant costs to the NHS associated with staff members attending work while unwell. He also argued that sickness absence in the Service could be reduced by a third, yielding direct annual cost savings of £555m.

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: “The Boorman review has given the NHS a blueprint for change. The staff survey shows there has been some improvement in health and well-being of staff working in the NHS, but there is still more that needs to be done.

“Staff working in the NHS are very dedicated. The survey shows they often put their own health at risk, going into work when they are ill, rather than let patients or their colleagues down.”

Commenting on the fall in incidents of assault and abuse, Mike Jackson, the union’s deputy head of health, added: “Unison is pleased to see that partnership working has delivered positive strides in boosting staff morale, and in cutting stress, violence and bullying. However, progress has been slow and Unison would like to see that progress stepped up a gear, and staff given the time they need to do their jobs more effectively.”

Health minister Ann Keen stressed that while “any level of physical violence, bullying or harassment of staff by patients, or the public is unacceptable,” she is encouraged that the levels reported are the lowest on record. She further remarked: “It is evidence of commitments nationally and locally to support staff and shows progress can, and is, being made.”

NHS Employers also applauded the progress being made on tackling violence and abuse. In a press statement, it said: “We are continuing to support NHS organisations to promote a climate of openness and dialogue in which staff feel free to raise concerns, and this is also reflected in the finding that almost all staff feel able to report errors they witness at work.”

Last month, revisions made to the Code for Crown Prosecutors underlined the public interest in prosecuting all those who attack health-care workers.

Issued by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Code gives guidance to prosecutors on the general principles to be applied when making decisions about prosecutions. Previously, the Code gave limited specific examples of victims of offences who “served the public” – citing police officers, prison officers and nurses.

These examples have now been widened to include “members of the emergency services” and “a health, or social-welfare professional”, among others.

Head of the NHS Security Management Service, Richard Hampton, commented: “This effectively signals to prosecutors across England and Wales that an offence against anybody providing NHS services, including ambulance workers, is to be viewed with particular concern. This will, in time, lead to more prosecutions of offences against NHS staff, and, in turn, more convictions.”
With regard to mentally-disordered offenders, the Code also gives new regard to safeguarding “those providing care services to such persons”.

Added Hampton: “This is again good news for NHS workers, especially those in mental-health and learning-disability settings – who suffer most of the reported assaults.”

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