Drunken abuse and violence against hospital staff

UK — Speaking at the first National Health Service (NHS) Security Management Professionals conference in November, Rosie Winterton, the country's Health Minister, said the number of NHS staff who were physically assaulted in England has reduced.

Statistics collected by the NHS Security Management Service (NHS SMS), show a fall of 1,690 in 2005 – a significant achievement, since violence and abuse had increased year-on-year until 2003, when the NHS SMS was set up. In addition, the number of people prosecuted for assaulting NHS staff in England also increased by 12% in the last year, from 759 to 850.

The statistics record 58,695 physical assaults against NHS staff in England, 1,690 fewer than 2004-5, and one for every 23 staff members, down from 22 last year.

Figures include:
1,104 assaults against ambulance staff, down 229 from 2005 (one assault per 29 staff members)
11,100 assaults against staff from acute and foundation hospitals, 342 more than last year (one assault per 67 staff members)
5,145 assaults against staff at primary care trusts, 47 fewer than last year (one assault per 68 staff members
41,345 assaults were against mental health and learning disability staff, 1,752 fewer than last year (one assault per five staff members)

‘It is totally unacceptable that NHS staff should face violence and aggression in the course of their job. Thankfully, these statistics show that the tide is turning and we are finally seeing a reduction in the number of assaults. However this does not mean we can rest on our laurels. There are still too many attacks on staff and for this reason, following our public consultation, we are proposing to make anti-social and nuisance behaviour on NHS premises a criminal offence,’ Rosie Winterton announced.

In response to a public consultation on nuisance behaviour in hospitals, the country’s Department of Health has proposed to make nuisance and anti-social behaviour in hospitals a criminal offence, with fines of up to £1,000, and the power to remove the offenders from NHS premises. Responses were overwhelmingly positive showing that the NHS and the public support measures to tackle nuisance and abusive behaviour before it becomes violent. ‘By giving the NHS the power to remove a potential threat, the offence would help reduce violent attacks on staff,’ she said. ‘This, alongside an increase in prosecutions, conflict resolution training for over 250,000 staff and our close working relationship with the Association of Chief Police Officers, means we can win the war against these violent offenders.’

Richard Hampton, Head of the NHS Security Management Service, said:
‘The statistics are the most accurate on the issue in the history of the NHS. They show that the very hard work that has been undertaken in the last three years is beginning to bear fruit, making patients and staff safer. Since the NHS Security Management Service was created in 2003, there have been fewer physical assaults, a 16-fold increase in the number of prosecutions and a greater awareness amongst staff that action is being taken. We hope NHS staff will feel more confident in reporting every incident.’

However, he added: ‘Most people respect NHS staff and would never dream of attacking them, but the NHS SMS will continue to strive to create a safer and more secure environment for staff and patients.’
The full response to the consultation is available at www.dh.gov.uk/consultations

New protective rights for hospitals
Royal Bolton Hospital has one of the busiest accident and emergency (A&E) departments in the North West, treating between 300–320 patients daily, which amounts to around 100,000 people annually.

Between April and September this year, 40 people were escorted from the hospital’s A&E by security staff due to unacceptable behaviour (for example, spitting, shouting, swearing and being disruptive or abusive) towards staff. In addition, during that period 41 people verbally abused A&E and security staff.  ‘No one should have to put up with this kind of behaviour in their workplace. It also causes distress in other patients and visitors in the department. Staff do not always report incidents of aggressive behaviour towards them – many feel it is part of the job – but this is unacceptable and it has to stop,’ said Dr Richard Parris, consultant in accident and emergency medicine at the hospital.


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