Nurse safety: boosting numbers 'helps protect against aggression or harassment'

Staff safety found to increase when registered nurse numbers are higher than the clinical requirement

Staff safety found to increase when registered nurse numbers are higher than the clinical requirement

Picture: John Behets

The risk of staff experiencing aggression from patients in mental health settings is influenced by how many registered nurses are on shift, a new study has revealed.  

Researchers from Birmingham City University (BCU) reviewed incidents of patient aggression in inpatient settings, recorded between September 2014 and March 2017, by an NHS mental healthcare provider in England that offers acute and community services. The data were culled from 10 locations (totalling 51 wards) and across the early, late and night shifts. 

They found that fewer incidents were reported by all staff groups when nurse numbers were higher than the clinical requirement, which is calculated according to the condition and number of patients admitted to wards.

Over the time period, 6,520 incidents of aggression by patients towards staff members were reported, affecting 12,138 members of staff.   

A total of 1,762 events characterised as ‘inappropriate behaviour’ were logged, affecting 4,058 members of staff.

There were 298 events classed as ‘sexual incidents’ reported, affecting 493 members of staff.

The study authors analysed the data and found that, on aggregate, each additional registered nurse on the early and late shifts led to a 9% decrease in adverse events reported.

More staff reduces rate of adverse events

BCU’s senior research fellow in health and social care, and one of the study’s authors, Sarahjane Jones, said: ‘There is strong evidence that having more registered nurses to, or above, the clinically required levels does reduce the rate of adverse events.

‘However, this is not consistent across all locations and all shifts, so the message would be that we need to understand what goes on in the wards and shifts. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

‘These findings offer an opportunity for a tightening-up of policy on workforce safety and retention.’

Responding to the findings, a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: ‘No one should have to face the threat of violence or aggression at work.’

They added that the interim NHS People Plan outlines steps to reduce vacancies, and that the department was committed to increasing the nursing workforce.

There are now 36,101 mental health nurses in the NHS, said the DHSC spokesperson, adding that this was more than 750 than in June 2017. 

Read the study

In other news

This is a free article for registered users

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.