RCN congress

Nurses debate stronger action against people who attack NHS staff

Nurses shared their personal stories during an RCN congress debate on whether there should be tougher sanctions against people who attack NHS staff.
Alison Upton

Nurses shared their personal stories during an RCN congress debate on whether there should be tougher sanctions against people who attack NHS staff

In 2008 in Scotland, the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 was modified so that it became an offence to assault medical practitioners, nurses and midwives.

The NHS Scotland staff survey in 2015 found that NHS employees who had experienced a physical attack had decreased by 10% since the act was put into place.

The discussion covered whether such leglislation should cover all four countries of the UK.

'Not acceptable'

RCN UK safety representatives committee member Alison Upton said: With staff already working under difficult conditions it is not acceptable to expect them to go to work with threats of violence and aggression.'

RCN outer north west

Nurses shared their personal stories during an RCN congress debate on whether there should be tougher sanctions against people who attack NHS staff

In 2008 in Scotland, the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 was modified so that it became an offence to assault medical practitioners, nurses and midwives.

The NHS Scotland staff survey in 2015 found that NHS employees who had experienced a physical attack had decreased by 10% since the act was put into place.

The discussion covered whether such leglislation should cover all four countries of the UK.

'Not acceptable'

Alison Upton
Alison Upton speaking at the RCN congress debate. Picture: John Houlihan

RCN UK safety representatives committee member Alison Upton said: ‘With staff already working under difficult conditions it is not acceptable to expect them to go to work with threats of violence and aggression.'

RCN outer north west London branch member Prasuna Kadel said she was physically assulted on her way home from her hospital in 2010 by friends of a patient she’d reported for harassing her.

She said: ‘I was off sick from work for three months, it was emotionally and mentally scarring for a long period.’

Student committee member for Wales Francesca Elner, a recently-qualified emergency nurse, said: ‘I have already witnessed and been on the receiving end of verbal and physical attacks by patients and relatives.’

She added that increased waiting times and the public’s belief politicians ignore their concerns was behind a rise in aggression and ‘creates a unique environment which requires unique legislation’.

'Ripple effect'

RCN older people’s forum member Alice Edet said assaults on nurses ‘had a ripple effect’ which affects not only patient care, but the whole organisation they work for.

She said: ‘If we as nurses don’t stand up for ourselves and make a strong statement against assault, who will?’

However, mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater felt existing legislation is sufficient and said: ‘I’m not entirely sure what extra difference creating a new law would make.'

Staff support

Instead he felt organisations should focus more on supporting staff in reporting and pursuing these claims.

'It’s a job for senior managers to show real leadership and protect staff safety.’

During a parliamentary debate in February on whether a specific law should be introduced – sparked by LBC radio's Guard Our Emergency Medical Services campaign – MPs heard how there were more than 70,000 assaults on NHS staff in England in 2016.

This works out at about 193 assaults per day.


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