Kicked, punched and threatened: thousands of nurses abused at work

Unison Scotland’s report on violence in the NHS exposes 18,300 recorded assaults on NHS staff in one year, following freedom of information requests to health boards

Unison Scotland’s report on violence in the NHS exposes 18,300 recorded assaults on NHS staff in one year following freedom of information requests to health boards

Photo of a nurse looking stressed and upset
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Thousands of nurses were assaulted at work in the past year, including being kicked, punched and threatened with violence.

Unison said freedom of information responses revealed there were more than 18,300 assaults on NHS staff in Scotland alone in the past 12 months, which it called ‘simply unacceptable’.

Aggressive behaviour exacerbated by understaffing, says Unison

The union said that as front-line workers, nurses, paramedics and receptionists are often most at risk of violence from patients, relatives and others. It said chronic understaffing and huge numbers of nurse vacancies create an environment that encourages aggressive behaviour and puts staff more at risk. With increased workloads, staff often do not have time to report violence, it added.

‘Nurses often bear the brunt of aggression and assaults,’ a Unison spokesperson said. ‘With chronic staffing issues and waiting times in hospitals, those predisposed to unreasonable behaviour are more likely to get violent. Nurses are under huge pressure and have the right to go to work without the fear of violence.’

Unison requested the figures from every health board in Scotland and received 18 responses; four reported no incidents or failed to respond.

Call for zero tolerance to violence and aggression

Almost 5,000 assaults were reported by staff at the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board (NHSGGC), Scotland’s biggest NHS employer, according to the data, published in the union’s annual violence at work report.

The report calls on health boards to take a zero tolerance approach to assaults and call the police in every instance. They also said employers should provide feedback following Datix reports and carry out dynamic risk assessments for violence and aggression.

‘One assault on NHS staff is one too many,’ said Unison Scotland’s head of health Matt Mclaughlin. ‘Over 18,000 assaults of NHS staff is simply unacceptable and we are in no doubt that there is considerable under-reporting. Working in the NHS is stressful enough without having to worry about your personal safety. NHS boards must take a zero tolerance approach and improve the reporting system, which NHS staff have little faith in.’

Scotland’s biggest NHS employer encourages staff to report all incidents of violence

A spokesperson for NHSGGC said: ‘Our staff come to work to help people, support patients and their families, deliver vital care and save lives. However, despite introducing a range of measures to protect our staff and specialist violence prevention training, we are unfortunately still seeing incidents of both physical and verbal abuse.

‘This is completely unacceptable under any circumstances and we actively encourage staff to report all incidents through the Datix system so we can fully investigate and report through our health and safety forums.’

Further information

Unison Scotland: Violent assaults NHS staff in Scotland survey 2022

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