News

Don’t blame us: nurses face rise in abuse from the public over delays in care

Unions and health bodies urge government and media to be more honest about systemic pressures
Picture shows a zero tolerance sign in a hospital, warning about the behaviour of patients and visitors

Unions and health bodies urge government to be more honest about systemic pressures facing healthcare services

Nurses and other healthcare staff are experiencing an unprecedented and growing tide of abuse from patients and the public driven by frustrations over delays to care.

Unions and health bodies are urging the government and media to be honest about the systemic pressures facing services rather than see individual staff blamed and abused.

In a joint statement , organisations including the RCN, Unison, the British Medical Association and NHS Employers and NHS Confederation said: ‘As organisations representing staff and

Unions and health bodies urge government to be more honest about systemic pressures facing healthcare services

Picture shows a zero tolerance sign in a hospital, warning about the behaviour of patients and visitors
Picture: Alamy

Nurses and other healthcare staff are experiencing an unprecedented and growing tide of abuse from patients and the public driven by frustrations over delays to care.

Unions and health bodies are urging the government and media to be honest about the systemic pressures facing services rather than see individual staff blamed and abused.

In a joint statement, organisations including the RCN, Unison, the British Medical Association and NHS Employers and NHS Confederation said: ‘As organisations representing staff and employers, we are absolutely clear that verbal or physical abuse of health and care staff is completely unacceptable in any setting including on social media.’

Abuse will worsen pressure on health services as well as waiting times

The group said while they understood patients’ frustrations, ‘blaming individual members of staff, whether clinical or administrative, for systemic problems caused by huge increases in demand coupled with a lack of resources and workforce capacity is completely inappropriate’.

The statement said abuse faced by staff would lead to ‘demoralisation, burnout and illness for the individuals’ and worsen the pressures on services and waiting times for care.

In addition to visible and distressing incidents directed at primary care staff in recent weeks, there has been a sharp rise in abuse across the sector, including staff working in urgent and emergency care, vaccinators, midwives, social care staff and nurses, the organisations said.

Trust reports 17% rise in incidents of violence and aggression towards staff

In the year to March 2021, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, which runs major acute hospitals including the Bristol Royal Infirmary, recorded 1,356 incidents of violence and aggression towards staff, up 17% on the previous year.

The trust’s chief nurse Deirdre Fowler told a board meeting last month that more than half of emergency department staff had experienced some type of violence and aggression recently and, consequently, one in six were considering changing roles.

‘I think this is directly correlated to increased activity and a change in public perception from one of clapping and seeing NHS staff as heroes to being incredibly frustrated because of long waits,’ she said.

Trust hired private security guards to protect emergency staff from abuse

Meanwhile, the James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Norfolk was last month forced to hire private security to protect emergency staff from abuse.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was ‘completely unacceptable for our heroic doctors, nurses and healthcare workers to face abuse for any reason’.

The spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to ensuring people get the treatment they need as quickly as possible, and average waiting times are nearly 45% lower than the peak of July 2020.’

Find out more


In other news

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Standard
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs