The NHS has launched a crackdown on verbal attacks on staff in a bid to combat rising levels of abuse.
Hospitals and primary care trusts are being advised to adopt a sliding scale of sanctions against offenders. The NHS Security Management Service advice ranges from discussing the abuse with the offender, to legal action.
Staff attacks, including both verbal and physical assault, have nearly doubled in the past five years, and now cost the NHS £69m a year. In 1998, there were 65,000 reported abusive or violent incidents against staff. Last year, that figure had risen to 116,000.
However, a report by the National Audit Office suggested the figure may be even higher, as two in five incidents are thought not to be reported.
The guidance calls on NHS bodies to implement their own strategies for dealing with offenders. For low level abuse, offenders should be given a verbal warning and an opportunity to discuss the problem. For the most serious offenders, criminal charges, injunctions or anti-social behaviour orders could be taken.
NHS staff should be given protection, such as through a security guard, if they are treating persistent offenders, the guidance said.
Public service union Unison said threats to staff must be tackled firmly and with commitment. The NHS Employers Organisation welcomed the guidelines, and said it was crucial that the NHS was an attractive and safe place to work.