NHS violence at unhealthy level

Violence and aggressive actions against NHS staff working in acute, mental
health and ambulance trusts has increased by 13 per cent.

A study by the National Audit Office reveals that around 95,500 incidents were
reported in 2001-02 and only a fifth of trusts met the Department of Health
improvement target of a 20 per cent reduction by April 2002.

The audit office attributes part of the increase to better awareness of the
need to report incidents and the use of common definitions of what constitutes
violence and aggression.

Elaine Way, president of the Association of Healthcare Human Resource
Management, is not surprised by the findings.

"Some members of the public seem to feel it is acceptable to take out their
frustrations with the system on staff. This can never be acceptable," she

"Employers cannot tackle this alone – we need the support of society to
reinforce the unacceptability of violence to NHS staff."

Many trusts consider that increased hospital activity and higher patient
expectations – particularly in relation to waiting times – have also
contributed to a rise in the level of violence.

There is little or no data on the financial impact of violence and
aggression but, based on their estimates of the cost of work-related accidents,
the audit office estimates that the direct cost is likely to be at least £69m a

This excludes staff replacement costs and the human costs, such as stress,
low morale, lost productivity and high staff turnover.

The report concludes that the NHS needs to do more to establish partnerships
with the local police, the Crown Prosecution Service, social services and the
media to ensure there is a clear and consistent approach to dealing with
violent individuals and incidents.

By Ben Willmott

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