There are nearly 200 assaults on doctors, nurses and other NHS staff in England, every single day. In 2015-2016, 70,555 NHS staff were assaulted – the highest number since incidents were first recorded. Over the last six years, there has been a 24% rise in the number of attacks.
Meanwhile, social care staff are even more likely to face abuse: a recent survey by Community Care revealed that 9 in 10 social workers have either been physically attacked or threatened with violence.
In short, frontline abuse is a serious issue, and it’s getting worse. It’s often noted that many patients act aggressively and threateningly because of their conditions – but that in no way justifies or explains why staff safety is being compromised so regularly.
So, is enough being done to solve this problem – or at the very least, deal with its consequences?
The body set up to advise on staff security has ended its work
Up until March this year, NHS Protect was tasked with consulting on the measures trusts were taking to protect nurses and doctors from physical attacks. But the government decided to look for a new provider of these services. Given the consistent growth in the number of incidents, the timing wasn’t ideal.
In the meantime, it appears that individual trusts and hospitals have to make decisions relating to their own, unique circumstances.
Police squads deployed in London hospitals
Recently, extreme measures have been taken to address this issue in 4 of London’s busiest hospitals.
A dedicated three-officer police team is covering workers across the Royal Free, Whittington, UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospitals. Many London hospitals have police liaison officers, but this is a big step up – owing to a step up in the number of assaults in the capital.
Elsewhere in the UK, security staff at hospitals have been issued with body cameras to try to capture incidents and prosecute those involved. The Royal Blackburn Hospital was the first to put these cameras in place after more than 220 assaults in just 12 months.
A larger police presence in hospitals across the UK could be an emerging trend. And if it makes NHS staff feel safer, then it will become a welcome trend, too.
This is a consequence of wider healthcare issues
Sadly, assaults are a by-product of the wider problems our national health system is facing.
From an ageing population to increasing staff vacancy rates, services are overwhelmed and patients are facing lengthy delays. And within these fraught and tense environments, anger is turning into violence. It’s wholly unacceptable, but it’s not wholly surprising.
As a result, any response to the issue of abuse on the frontline has to be about more than police protection and security. Arguably, solving staff shortages could have a positive impact. But either way, a more thorough investigation into these assaults – and importantly, their causes – is essential.
Being a nurse or doctor at the sharp edge of the NHS is hard enough at the moment without worrying about being abused. But shockingly, a recent Royal College of Nursing study found that 56% of nurses had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients.
How is an already suffering institution going to attract new nurses when stats like this are being circulated? Healthcare needs to offer purpose, financial reward, flexibility and career progression. But before anything else, it needs to be safe.
Have you suffered from abuse on the frontline?
If you’re a healthcare or social care professional who’s suffered abuse, don’t just accept it as a consequence of the job. In most cases these incidents can be treated as crimes like any other – and offenders can prosecuted.
So, report any incidents to your manager – and if necessary, to the police.