Assaults on NHS staff increase 10% in a year

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Physical assaults on NHS staff in England rose by 9.7% compared to 2015/16, according to new figures published today.

The biggest increase was in acute care, with attacks on health workers in hospitals with A&E departments up more than one fifth (21%), according to Unison – 18,720 assaults in 2016/17 in the acute trusts that responded, compared to 15,469 the previous year.

The union suggests that NHS trusts struggling to meet their performance targets were more likely to to see their staff assaulted. Trusts that treated fewer than 90% of patients within the 18-week referral period typically saw an increase in reported assaults of 36.2%.

NHS trusts with large financial deficits were likely to have witnessed a big rise in the number of reported attacks on staff, according to the Unison figures. Assaults in trusts that are more than £20m in the red were up 23.1% on the previous year. This compares to an increase of just 1.5% for NHS trusts without deficit and with surpluses in excess of £5 million.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “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.

“It’s no accident that trusts where the pressures seem the most extreme – where there are huge financial deficits or where it’s a struggle to meet growing demands on services – have seen the steepest rise in the number of attacks. This desperate situation is only set to worsen as the squeeze on resources gets tighter.”

The data, obtained in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Health Service Journal on behalf of Unison, comes from 181 of the 244 NHS trusts in England.

“Now that there is no NHS or Government organisation collecting data on assaults nationally, the picture is growing increasingly unclear,” said Gorton. “The safety of staff, who care for us when we are sick or injured, and their patients should be paramount. The Government should reverse its ill-thought out decision to axe NHS Protect immediately.”

NHS trusts responding to the FoI request reported physical assaults on staff of 56,435 in 2016/17, a 9.7% increase on 2015/16 data (51,447).

Although staff working in mental health are 7.5 times more likely to be attacked according to the union, this was a smaller increase from 2015/16 of 5%. Unison suggested the sector was having some success in preventing a difficult situation from getting any worse.

Other parts of the NHS showing an increase in attacks on staff higher than the national average of 9.7% were:

  • Community trusts – up 21.5%
  • Ambulance trusts saw 2,330 violent incidents in 2016/17, a 14.5% rise
  • Trusts employing more than 7,000 staff reported a 15.5% increase, compared to an 8.3% rise in assaults in organisations employing less than 3,000.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “It is completely unacceptable that a nurse, paramedic, porter or any member of NHS staff should be assaulted physically or verbally as they care for patients. NHS England continues to work with trusts and any of our staff affected, to help the police and other authorities do everything needed when an assault takes place.”

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