Attacks on NHS workers continue to rise as reporting falls

The annual NHS Staff Survey was published last month and reveals similar trends to previous years as violence and abuse rise and reporting falls. The survey was carried out across 300 different NHS organisations and is one of the largest workforce surveys in the world.

Main findings 

The NHS Staff Survey revealed that 28.3% of staff experienced at least one incident of bullying, harassment or abuse from patients, their relatives or other members of the public in 2018. This shows a slight rise from 2017 while physical assaults are down slightly with 14.5% of staff experiencing at least one incident of physical violence.

Nurses, paramedics and mental health staff are among those most likely to be assaulted, with statistics showing that 33.3% of ambulance staff experienced violence from patients last year and 1 in 5 mental health staff experienced violence whilst at work in 2018.

Worryingly, the amount of assaults that are reported within the NHS has gradually fallen since 2017 with 30% of incidents going unreported. Some articles believe many victims of violence avoid reporting the incident due to fear and occasionally, embarrassment.

While an improvement from the previous year, 41.8% of respondents still feel as though their organisation treats staff who are involved in an error, near miss or incident unfairly, and 29.6% feel their organisation do not take adequate action.

Why has harassment of NHS staff risen? 

The rise in harassment of NHS staff has risen slowly over the past few years. Many believe this rise to be due to under staffing causing long waiting times during busy periods, resulting in patients getting agitated and irate with having to wait to be seen. This is heightened when patients are in a high amount of pain or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Sara Gorton, Unisons head of health says “Across the entire NHS, staff shortages are harming patient care and helping to create a hostile environment where health workers are increasingly at risk of being assaulted”.

Many NHS workers also find themselves working late or doing night shifts alone,  leaving them vulnerable and more at risk to harassment and violence.

How can the NHS be protected from patient harassment 

No one should ever feel threatened or at risk in their working environment but for many NHS workers this is often the case. Attacks and harassment on NHS workers have a huge impact on their overall mental health and well being, this, in turn, can lead to post-traumatic stress and long sick periods. Employers have a responsibility to make sure their workers are as safe as possible whilst at work and to achieve this, strategies should be considered and put in place.

Improving safety culture 

While the NHS Survey reveals that safety culture within NHS organisations is gradually improving, a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure employees feel cared for and able to raise concerns in a safe environment.

Reporting is crucial for any organisation in identifying risks and improving health and safety. Employers should encourage reporting and respond in a positive and proactive manner so that employees can see that their concerns are being taken seriously. Appropriate action should be taken when a concern raised and this should be fed back to employees.

Employee training

New measures are being introduced to NHS staff to help them manage violent situations and avoid escalation. With the relevant training, employees will be able to deal with violent situations and offenders will be prosecuted more quickly. Staff should also be trained on how they can signal for help in the event of a compromising situation and how the organisations reporting process works.

Implementing an NHS policy 

NHS organisation should have a violence and aggression policy in place so that employees know how to handle such a situation, how to record and report on incidents and what safety measures are in place to protect them against violence and aggression.

They should also develop a lone worker policy to ensure staff working alone are at no more risk than other employees, especially as they are at higher risk of violence and aggression.

For tips on developing an NHS lone worker policy, visit our guide.

Lone worker apps – lone worker devices NHS 

Apps such as StaySafe are a great way to help keep lone working employees safe during an incident. Lone worker apps are easily accessible, cost-effective and simple to implement.

The intuitive StaySafe app assures lone worker protection through features such as panic alerts, timed check-in sessions and GPS tracking. The app also has a man down feature which can alert monitoring services if an employee has not moved or checked in for a prolonged period of time.

The app has been tailored to meet the needs of medical staff with its range of functionality and panic alerts. If an employee feels threatened or under attack, they can raise an alarm discreetly by using the phone’s power button. Inputting a unique duress pin will safeguard the employee if threatened by the attacked. It will appear as if the app has been disabled when in actual fact an alert has been raised in the Hub. The appropriate services will be dispatched to the employee to ensure their safety.

To find out more, sign up for a live demo or contact us.


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