NHS violence reduction strategy aims to protect staff from assaults at work

More than 15% of health service employees experienced violence in the past year

More than 15% of health service employees experienced violence in the past year

Picture: John Behets

The NHS will adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to violence against its staff and prosecute offenders quickly, the health and social care secretary announced today.

In a speech at an RCN conference on assaults on emergency workers, Matt Hancock set out a series of measures to protect NHS workers in England.

Figures on violence

The most recent NHS staff survey showed that more than one in eight health service employees experienced violence in the past year – the highest figure for five years.

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Mr Hancock unveiled the first NHS violence reduction strategy at the conference, which was chaired by RCNi’s senior nurse editor Richard Hatchett. 

The strategy will enable the health service, police and Crown Prosecution Service to work together to ensure that people are supported to give evidence to achieve swifter prosecutions.

The measures include: 

  • Staff will be provided with better training to deal with a violent situation, including challenging circumstances involving patients with dementia or mental health issues.
  • NHS staff who experience violence will be given prompt mental health support.
  • A new system will be introduced so staff can record assaults or other incidents of abuse or harassment.
  • NHS trusts will be expected to investigate each violent incident to ensure lessons are learned and staff are protected in the future.
  • National data on reported violence against staff will be analysed so healthcare officials can identify which staff are most vulnerable to attacks.

Kim Sunley
Picture: Tim George

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said: ‘Nurses and healthcare workers understand their roles aren’t risk-free but, to many, it still seems as if the threat of physical violence is a daily reality.

‘These measures will increase the accountability of employers for the safety of their staff, and ensure that those who wilfully assault healthcare workers feel the full force of the law.’

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Mental health nurse Sharon Morris spoke at today’s conference about how an assault by one of her patients in a secure unit led to Ms Morris having to take three months off work.

No escape

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning: ‘The patient jumped over and started punching me full force about the head about six times.

‘I honestly thought I might die – there was no escape.’

The Care Quality Commission has announced that it will scrutinise NHS trusts’ plans to reduce violence against staff, and those that need further support to protect their employees will be identified.

Other issues raised at the conference 

Mr Hancock sidestepped a question from an audience member about introducing safe staffing legislation in England.

He said he was ‘very happy to look at it in principle’ but that it was important that any law worked in practice.

Wales was the first country in Europe to introduce safe staffing legislation for nurses in 2016, following an RCN Wales campaign. Scotland is looking to follow suit, and published a bill on the issue last month.

Mr Hancock, whose grandmother was a nurse, also reiterated his commitment to improving staff morale.

He added that ensuring racial equality in the nursing profession was also vital for morale. He said too many black and minority ethnic nurses find it difficult to progress in their careers, are paid less than white colleagues, and face bias or discrimination.

‘This is indefensible and runs against the values of the NHS that we love. It must change. I believe in equality of opportunity and embracing diversity with every fibre of my being.’

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