Rise in violence against staff in psychiatric units prompts concerns about safe staffing levels

Figures also spark debate about police response rate

The RCN has raised concerns about staffing levels in psychiatric units in response to figures that show staff are dealing with a rising number of violent attacks.

Responses to freedom of information requests by The Guardian newspaper revealed rising numbers of assaults on staff at NHS trusts, including at North and East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT).

Staff in the trust's psychiatric unit were assaulted 291 times last year, a rise of 35% from 2014.

At East London NHS Foundation Trust, reported assaults rose from 11 in 2013 to 258 last year.

The Guardian also revealed that police did not respond to more than 125 of the 313 calls for help from staff at NELFT last year.

RCN senior employment relations adviser Kim Sunley said psychiatric units must focus on preventing attacks on staff. 

She added: ‘This can only happen where you have enough staff, trained in all the necessary techniques to diffuse situations, and able to call for support where it is needed. The fact that many calls need to be made is a strong indication that units are not being properly staffed.

‘It’s really worrying that staff are bearing the brunt of overstretched police forces as well as shortages in their own profession.’

The Metropolitan Police Service has been working with health partners to develop policy on which situations require a police response.

A Met spokesperson said: 'It is accepted by all partners that there has been an unnecessary reliance on police to manage what is accepted as "foreseeable risk" and that this should be managed without the need for policing assistance. In many circumstances health partners have far more powers than the police do to deal with situations occurring within health premises.'

An NHS Protect spokesman said: ‘We have worked with the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs' Council and are finalising an agreement on the acceptable thresholds for when it is appropriate to call police and how the police respond.’

An NELFT spokesperson said the trust was working closely with police ‘to ensure the levels of protection that NHS staff are entitled to is in place’. 

East London NHS Foundation Trust director of nursing Jonathan Warren said the trust has employed a security manager who trained as both a mental health nurse and a police officer.

He added: ‘Nurses, therapists, pharmacists and doctors have come together with service users, carers and families to develop solutions to combat violence on the wards.

'There are agreed protocols which all staff follow, acting on small signs which signify the possibility of someone losing control.'


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