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COVID-19 and abuse of staff: how we’re handling aggression towards nurses

Visiting restrictions have provoked aggressive behaviour from some members of the public

Visiting restrictions have provoked aggressive behaviour from some members of the public, but everyone has a right to perform their work in safety

Nurses know better than most how tough this year has been.

Indeed, our nurses at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust were the first in the country to care for patients diagnosed with the coronavirus , back in January.

Why restrictions had to be reinstated

During the first wave of COVID-19, hospitals at our trust, in line with those around the country, were forced to halt visiting as we took action to limit the risk of our patients and staff contracting the virus.

Only when the virus abated as we

Visiting restrictions have provoked aggressive behaviour from some members of the public, but everyone has a right to perform their work in safety

Picture: iStock

Nurses know better than most how tough this year has been.

Indeed, our nurses at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust were the first in the country to care for patients diagnosed with the coronavirus, back in January.

Why restrictions had to be reinstated

During the first wave of COVID-19, hospitals at our trust, in line with those around the country, were forced to halt visiting as we took action to limit the risk of our patients and staff contracting the virus.

Only when the virus abated as we approached summer were some of the visiting restrictions eased, but always in line with social distancing and safety regulations, to prevent the spread of the virus.

However, with Hull recording the highest infection rates in the country in the second wave, we had to once again introduce restrictions.

In our emergency department, for example, we introduced a ‘patient-only’ system because we need to maintain social distancing in our waiting areas and do not have the space for relatives and friends.

Growing anger towards nursing staff

At the Queen’s Centre for oncology patients, we restricted visiting for all patients except those receiving palliative care, to protect those with compromised immune systems.

Sadly, this time round, we have borne the brunt of growing anger among a minority of the public over restrictions aimed at keeping everyone safe.

‘We are using our social media channels to appeal to visitors and relatives to understand we have a zero-tolerance approach to abuse of staff’

Our nurses have been shouted at and abused by a small number of relatives and our reception staff have been intimidated by visitors who seem reluctant to follow the rules we’ve introduced to keep our patients, staff and, indeed, the public safe.

As a consequence, we are using our social media channels to appeal to visitors and relatives to understand we have a zero-tolerance approach to abuse of staff.

We’ve had to introduce security staff in reception areas at Hull Women and Children’s Hospital, as well as our emergency department at Hull Royal Infirmary and at the Queen’s Centre to provide reassurance to our staff and to underline the fact that anyone engaging in such behaviour will be asked to leave.

Pursuing penalties to keep staff safe

Senior management has always taken the intimidation or abuse of our staff extremely seriously.

Even before the pandemic, we worked closely with Hull City Council to issue antisocial behaviour warnings to anyone who is abusive towards our staff.

We also continue to work with Humberside Police to ensure the enforcement of a recent change in the law, increasing penalties against those who engage in violence or abuse against emergency workers, including hospital staff.

Nurses and others working in the NHS have the right to come to their place of work without fear and perform their jobs without the threat of abuse or violence from anyone.

We will never stop insisting on that right on their behalf – pandemic or no pandemic.


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