MORE than 15 per cent of NHS employees have experienced violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the last 12 months – the highest figure for five years – according to the most recent NHS staff survey.
These figures are cited in an announcement by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock of the "first ever" NHS violence reduction strategy.
The strategy involves the NHS working with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to help victims give evidence and get prosecutions in the quickest and most efficient way. It will empower the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to scrutinise violence as part of its inspection regime and identify trusts that need further support. Staff will also be offered improved training to deal with violence, including circumstances involving patients with dementia or mental illness, and also prompt mental health support for NHS employees who have been victims of violence.
The strategy will allow staff to more easily record assaults and other incidents of abuse or harassment and trusts will be expected to ensure every incident is investigated in full and lessons used to protect staff from future incidents. The government is also drawing up plans for violence and abuse data from across the NHS to be reported nationally, which should allow the government and NHS England to determine which staff are most vulnerable to violence and allow for appropriate action to be taken.
The new plans follow the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which was recently brought into law and will see the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker double from 6 months to a year.
Matt Hancock said: "NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable.
"We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system."
Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, BMA junior doctors committee chair, commented on the announcement: "In an NHS environment where workloads and waiting times are rising, and staff are already under greater pressure, leading to the risk that unwell patients or their loved ones can become more frustrated, however, it is not acceptable to choose to take that frustration out on those who are trying to help. The latest figures reveal that the total number of assaults on NHS staff in the year to the 31st March 2016 was 70,555 up from 59,744 in 2011/12.
"We believe that tougher sentences for attacks on emergency service workers will make a real difference in reducing the number of serious incidents that staff are subjected to and we support the Violence Reduction Strategy, which sends out a strong deterrent message to those who wilfully assault NHS staff."