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March 26, 2009

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Fewer NHS staff experiencing stress, bullying and abuse

The latest survey of NHS employees reveals a decline in the number of

staff suffering work-related stress, or experiencing bullying and

harassment.

But ambulance workers experience higher levels of violence and are more at risk of injury than other types of worker — an issue that the Healthcare Commission, which published the survey, wants to see explored further.

The survey, which was completed by 160,000 workers from all 390 NHS trusts, points to a marked reduction in the proportion of staff (28 per cent) who said they had suffered from work-related stress in the last year compared with each of the last two years (33 per cent).

The numbers of staff experiencing bullying, harassment and abuse from patients, or their relatives, also declined — from 28 per cent in 2006 to 23 per cent in 2008. Fifty-three per cent of staff said they had received training in the prevention or handling of violence and aggression, compared with 49 per cent in 2007.

Levels of physical violence remain largely unchanged over the past four years, even though the survey suggests an improvement in the reporting of incidents of violence and abuse. Nearly three quarters of incidents of physical violence and more than half (53 per cent) of bullying, harassment or abuse cases were reported — an increase from 66 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively, in 2007.

Unsurprisingly, the survey shows that ambulance workers are at particular risk from acts of physical or mental abuse — but just 34 per cent had received health and safety training in the previous year. This compares with 74 per cent across the entire NHS. Ambulance staff are also substantially more likely to suffer a moving and handling injury — 30 per cent, as opposed to 10 per cent of workers across the NHS.

Staff resources are highlighted as a potential area of concern. Nearly half of those surveyed (47 per cent) feel there are not enough staff to enable them to do their jobs properly, with two thirds (66 per cent) working more than their contracted hours.

Commenting on the figures, Anna Walker, chef executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: “We know that a good working environment for staff means better care for patients. Infection control, work-related stress, and harassment and abuse by patients have been tough nuts to crack for the NHS. This survey shows real progress is being made to tackle some of the issues that impact negatively on NHS staff — this can only improve quality of care for patients.”

But the Royal College of Nursing urged the Government to do more to protect staff against violent and abusive incidents. It said: “The number of attacks on NHS staff is still unacceptable. Nurses and other NHS staff should be able to care for patients while feeling safe, secure and properly supported by employers. The Government has made a welcome pledge to provide extra investment, such as alarms for staff working alone in the community, but we need to see this put in place quickly so that NHS staff can get on with the job of treating patients free of the threat of violence.”

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