Nurses on verge of breakdown

Violent attacks on nurses are increasing, pushing many to psychological breaking point, according to a major survey by the Royal College of Nursing.

The Working Well – At Breaking Point poll of nearly 3,000 nurses found they experienced more stress than the general working population, as measured by Health and Safety Executive stress standards.

Common stressors included violent and abusive attacks by patients and relatives, bullying, work demands, control over their work and relationships with colleagues.

Four in 10 nurses reported having been harassed or assaulted by patients or their relatives in the past 12 months (up 6% from 2000), rising to 79% in accident and emergency.

More than a quarter said they had been physically attacked at work, and almost half of these said they had been assaulted in the previous year.

Instances of bullying were also on the rise, from 17% in 2000 to nearly 25%.

Almost half of these said a manager had been the source of the problem, and more than two-thirds who reported bullying to their employer were unhappy with the outcome.

Nurses’ psychological wellbeing had also deteriorated since the 2000 survey.

Four in 10 nurses were found to have varying degrees of problems with their psychological wellbeing. A total of 14% scored as being psychologically healthy but experiencing some difficulties, while a further 12% were experiencing a broader range of difficulties, and 14% were experiencing raised levels of distress where some help might be required.

The government has warned that patients or relatives who verbally attack or threaten NHS staff will now risk fines of £1,000, a move welcomed by the health union Unison.

Julian Topping, head of workplace health and employment at NHS Employers said tackling stress, work-life balance and bullying were all high on the NHS agenda.

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