Violent attacks against nurses are increasing, and their psychological wellbeing is worsening, according to research released today by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Nearly 2,800 nurses responded to the RCN’s Working Well – At Breaking Point survey, which questions nurses about their working lives and issues such as bullying and stress.
Four in 10 said they had been harassed or assaulted by patients or their relatives in the past 12 months. This is an increase of 6% since 2000 – the last time the survey was conducted. The figure rises to 79% for nurses working in accident and emergency departments.
Instances of bullying are also on the rise. In 2000, 17% of nurses said they were bullied or harassed at work. By 2005, nearly one-quarter of respondents (23%) had experienced bullying or harassment.
Almost half (45%) of those said a manager was the source of the problem. More than two-thirds (69%) of people who reported bullying problems to their employer said they were unhappy with the outcome.
The survey found 40% of nurses had varying degrees of problems with their psychological wellbeing.
Beverly Malone, RCN general secretary, said: “Nursing is a hugely rewarding profession, but this survey demonstrates the tough issues that nurses are facing every day on top of a job that is physically and mentally demanding.
“If we are going to bring more people into the profession and stop others leaving, we have got to tackle these problems.”
NHS Employers, the body responsible for workforce conditions in the NHS, is currently developing a programme to tackle bullying and harassment in the service.
The bright side
It is not all bad news for nurses, according to the RCN survey.
The launch of the health service’s Improving Working Lives initiative in 1999 has made a positive difference to workplaces in the UK. Access to flexible working (55% compared with 46% in 2000) and term-time/holiday contracts (24% from 12%) has increased in the past five years.
More than one-quarter (28%) of nurses strongly agree that they are able to take annual leave when needed, the survey said.
Rush to roll out Agenda for Change could backfire
The rush to assimilate NHS workers on to the Agenda for Change pay system means the health service will see a higher percentage of staff appeals against new pay bandings than originally predicted, unions have warned.
NHS Employers, the body responsible for pay and workforce conditions in the NHS, estimated before the nationwide roll-out of the scheme that no more than 5% of staff would go to the evaluation panel stage, which follows any unresolved review. But so far, it has been unable to put a figure on how many staff are asking for a review, as that information is not collected centrally
The Royal College of Nursing said it expected the final figure on staff asking to be reviewed to be as high as 10%, while the Amicus union said it could be even higher.
Colin Adkins, research and policy officer at Amicus, said he felt the estimate of 5% was “unrealistic”. “We would be surprised if the final figure was as low as that. Our own estimate is somewhere between 10% and 20%,” he said.
That would mean as many as 250,000 employees could ask for a review of their new pay banding.
Adkins criticised the target mentality of the health service, which meant that, to meet government deadlines, some trusts had to “block assimilate” employees on to the new system without the proper matching procedures.